The Death of Stalin

Many critics loved this historical art film. I liked it…I think.

The Death of StalinThe Death of Stalin, directed by Armando Iannucci, is a dark, inventive film surrounding the death of Soviet Dictator Josef Stalin in the early 1950s. While it is wildly creative, it lacks much of the zip and comic strength of Mr. Iannucci’s acclaimed TV series “Veep”.

Stalin was a tyrannical beast who authorized the execution of millions of Russian citizens during his reign. Surrounded by a group of sycophants who wondered if they were next in line at the chopping block, his death unleashed a comic struggle to replace their contemptible dead leader.

The strength of the film flows from a number of fine performances by very good actors beginning with Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, Michael Palin as Molotov and Jeffrey Tambor as Malenkov. As they all wrestled with the consequences of Stalin’s death, they frequently found a way to turn turmoil into a tragic comedy.

The movie was also helped by several other memorable performances, beginning with Simon Russell Beale as Lavrenti Beria, the head of the Soviet National Police. Though it seems a bit scandalous to make this observation, it was at times quite amusing to watch his callous approach to torturing and killing Soviet citizens for little reason. In addition, Rupert Friend gave an hysterical turn as Stalin’s son, Vasily, a deranged psychopath with the ability to do any idiotic act that entered his limited brain.

And although she had a small role as a pianist, Olga Kurylenko demonstrated her acting skills as Maria Yudina, an artist who was not afraid to publicly express her hope that Stalin died quickly. Despite the fact that she remains underused on the big screen, Ms. Kurylenko remains one of my favorite actresses. For those of you harboring any doubt, skip this film and hunt down her marvelous roles in Seven Psychopaths (2012), the James Bond film Quantum of Solace (2008) and Hitman (2007).