Josef Stalin was a dude who a lot of people respected, a lot of people feared, and lot of people hated. But at least he got the trains running on time in Italy, right?
Wait, that was Mussolini? And Mussolini was in Italy?
Stalin was in goddamn Russia? Oh, well, fuck, close enough. Communists are communists, am I right?
Either way, The Death of Stalin is a satirical look at his death, and the power vacuum that existed in the Soviet Union after the fact. A topic you (like me) probably know next to nothing about, and after you see a film like this, will assume you know a lot that is probably not true.
He peed his pants. That is smelly.
In 1953, in the Soviet Union, everything was nice and grand. People are alive, until they are not. People are living their lives normally, until their not. Josef Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) is a generous man who rules with an iron fist, sure, but hey, its a hard job being in the top. He has a big cabinet of faithful advisers, from Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin), and Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale).
He also has death/torture lists, that are frequently updated. You know, traitors and such. The army runs out, grabs them, imprisons them or kills them just because Stalin heard a whiff of untrustworthy behavior. Not too fun to be caught up in that.
And then? Well, then Stalin just had to go and die. And now, we have a group of men who all want to be leaders, while also want to be sure Stalin is dead before they take over the power vacuum. This cabinet of individuals has to try and work together to make sure their country doesn’t fall apart, and that they don’t backstab each other before the best man actually gets the job.
Also, while dealing with the religious fanatics, the normal people, the army, the special army, the prisons, and lists, and ugh, the family of Stalin.
If they all stand around the casket, then the only one that can backstab them is Zombie Stalin.
The Death of Stalin is a strange movie to come out, one that is really hard to describe. Because it is weird. It is sort of Monty Python-esque, sort of silly, while still maintaining a very strong and serious vibe. I am laughing out loud in the theater due to how absurd the whole thing feels and how awkward the characters are.
It is quite obvious that there is no way the events are accurate as shown in this movie. It is very wonky and similar to maybe the Three Stooges, with a bit less slapstick. At the same time, it still felt realistic and natural for these men to be freaking out and being awkward, given the situation they are in. They know everyone of them is ruthless. They have been living in a ruthless time. They are used to a period where people would die for saying the wrong thing, and when you want to be on top, you might end up saying the wrong thing.
Overall, this is not the sort of film that everyone would love. A bit bizarre, a bit funny, while also maintaining a lot of deadpanning and dry humor. And somehow, still, piss humor.
This film has definitely intrigued me about this moment in history and it has wanted me to learn more!