There have been many instances where a head of state or country dies, and the chaotic transition of power that follows. One best example is when JFK was assassinated, from accounts that Bobby Kennedy actually looked into ways of stopping LBJ from being sworn in to even the changes in the cabinet. But what happens when the ruler is a king and there is no true family successor?
“The Death of Stalin” is the new film directed by Armando Iannucci (In the Loop, Tube Tales) and stars Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Reservoir Dogs), Jeffrey Tambor (Hellboy, Transparent), Simon Russell Beale (Hamlet, Into the Woods), Andrea Riseborough (Oblivion, Disconnect), Olga Kurylenko (Hitman, Quantum of Solace), Adrian McLoughlin (Sold, Kingdom), Michael Palin (A Fish Called Wanda, Time Bandits), Justin Edwards (The Thick of It, Zapped), Tim Brooke (Preacher, Pirate Radio), and Rupert Friend (Hitman: Agent 47, The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas). Very loosely based on historical events as part of a French graphic novel, it takes place during the days before and after Russian leader Joseph Stalin passes away. Alliances are made with each person of the cabinet trying to “one up” the others and try to get as much power as they could.
The film is staged mostly in the Stalin Compound in the USSR, with a few city scenes. The city shots showed a look of being behind the Iron Curtain well. The acting was good overall, which is to be expected with icons like Beale, Tambor, Friend, Riseborough and Buscemi. The standout for me is Beale, who plays head of the infamous NKVD Lavrenti Beria. When Stalin turns for the worse, he starts trying to take control even though the bi-laws state that the temporary power goes to Deputy General Secretary Malenkov (Tambor). Beale shows true emotion and played the perfect snake in the grass. I also have to note the performance of Friend as Stalin’s spoiled son who is out of the political loop.
“The Death of Stalin” is an hour and forty-seven minutes long, which by the end seemed a tad long, but still the plot flowed well and I was interested mostly through the film. There are some violence and adult situations, so it is rated “R” for a reason. There are also some very ridiculous events shown that made me laugh, but when I think about it, they were mostly embellished. If you like European-style comedy, I think you will like this film style. This film has some good points but the attempt to try to mix the serious film with comedy did not work. I will still recommend this film, but as a Red Box rental.