Our Take on ‘The Death of Stalin’

We are of the generation where when we were born, the good old Soviet Union was still alive though slowly inching towards its demise. With the eventual dissolution of USSR in 1991, where Russia emerged in its aftermath, who would have thought we would be back talking about U.S. vs. Russia in 2018?

With this past weekend’s election in Russia where Putin won by a huge margin — getting more than 76% of the vote — and with Mueller’s Russia investigation still making headlines, it is safe to assume that Russia has made a come back of some sort in recent news.

So with the current political climate in the back of our mind, we had a chance to check out the much-anticipated screening of “The Death of Stalin” (adapted from a French graphic novel) with director Armando Iannucci gracing his presence at a Q&A session afterward.

As Paul McCartney once belted, “I’m back in the USSR,” we dove into the fictional world of Stalin’s death to come back alive (figuratively) to share our thoughts.

Jeeah: I was quite excited to see this film come to realization as I’m a huge fan of Armando Iannucci’s work such as the “The Thick of It” and “In the Loop.” First off, I was impressed at the virtuoso performance by all the actors, but especially so with Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev and Simon Russell Beale as the notorious Lavrentiy Beria (head of the NKPD). For those who are familiar with Iannucci’s dark slap-stick comedy, the script was nuanced in a way that it contrasted the everyday killing/torturing/deportation of innocent civilians with the pettiness in Stalin’s inner circle as each of the Politburo members scrambled to come out on top after an untimely death of Stalin. Of course, we all know that Khrushchev went on to serve as the leader from 1953 to 1964 (toppled by his underling Brezhnev).

I also appreciated the fact that none of the actors took on a fake Russian accent. Iannucci noted that he wanted the actors to feel natural in their rapid-fire deliveries. So it made sense for them to speak in their native English dialects, which ranged from straightforward Yorkshire accent by General Zukhov (the only person who could lay it down with Stalin) to the loud and chatty Brooklynese embodied by Steve Buscemi’s Khrushchev. Overall, after letting all the grim nature of real historical facts sink in, I would definitely watch it again.

Kourtney: I have never seen anything quite like this movie, and I hope its success causes more movies in the same vein to be produced. While Iannucci admits that the timing and plot aren’t entirely accurate, it still gives the audience a good idea of the events surrounding the death of Stalin, one of the most influential people of the 20th Century. I enjoyed that it was a history class wrapped up in a dark comedy that let the audience laugh and learn at the same time. The screening and Q&A inspired me to go home and read up on these historical figures I had little knowledge or interest in, and I always appreciate media that spark intellectual curiosity.

The performances were stellar, the screenplay witty and well-paced, and the set design made it feel like it was shot in the USSR instead of modern-day London. Simon Russell Beale was the standout in a cast full of talent, and it was great that Iannucci was able to get a stage actor to play the part. Iannucci knew that Beale’s relatively unknown to most of us, and that anonymity (along with great performance) did help sell him as the morally-compromised Beria. Even if you have no interest in the history of the USSR, I’d recommend this movie for the entertainment factor alone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *