Sunday, April 22, 2018

Movie Review: The Death of Stalin

While terrible things were happening, absurdity reigned in the highest offices of communist Russia when the leader suddenly passes and the sycophants must take control. The scheming begins almost immediately as does the lying to cover up the death. The most nefarious member of the inner circle is the leader of the NKVD, Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beal). He orders plenty of people to be killed or imprisoned for any number of reasons and plots to install a puppet leader and Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) is his top choice. 

What seemingly caused Stalin's death was a note from a piano player Maria Veniaminovna Yudina (Olga Kurylenko) that blamed him for ruining the country. Laventiy hides the note away for a later date. Also scheming is Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) who doesn't even have time to change out of his pajamas before rushing to the body because he knows if he's late then he'll be usurped and possibly executed.  Stalin is still alive but has had a stroke so the committee seeks out any remaining doctors int he city. Due to the purge of individuals with certain ideas, they have a hard time finding anyone who can actually cure him. They do find doctors but they lie about the condition of the leader. 

Stalin's daughter Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough) arrives and each of the members tries to woo her.  Stalin's son Vasily (Rupert Friend) is a drunken screw up who believes he is in trouble when they bring him into to see his dead father. He claims there are conspiracies afoot so the members seek to silence him. Malenkov takes on the leadership role and cooperates with Beria who makes most of the decisions. They put Khrushchev in charge of Stalin's funeral as a way to demote him and ridicule him. The funeral consists of several episodes of absurdity as each member disagrees on the direction of the country. Field Marshal Zhukov (Jason Isaacs) arrives wanting to know why his army has been pushed aside by the NKVD. 

Khrushchev puts together a plan to have everyone turn on Beria but he knows if he does not pull it off at the exact right moment, then everything will fall apart. He makes sure to get Zhukov on his side so that the military can take out the NKVD. He treats Stalin's family with disrespect even having jets fly over during Vasily's silly speech. Convincing Malenkov proves the hardest as the other committee members agree Beria is the problem. They summon all the members and Khrushchev works on convincing Malenkov all the way up until the last minute and even then Malenkov is reluctant to go through with the murder. Khrushchev takes control and steadily rises to power until the postscript lets us know he was betrayed too.

The Death of Stalin is a hilarious look a horrific part of history in a country that does not acknowledge the absurdity of the government. I was totally unfamiliar with the events surrounding the ruthless dictator so I found this story informative while also hilarious and disturbing. Not many films have this strange and potent mixture of history, humor, and horror. I enjoyed the performances by Steve Buscemi and Simon Russell Beal as they jockey for power in this corrupt country. I am glad this film made it out to where I live as these more independent films don't always show in theaters.  

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