The Death of Stalin

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Sight & Sound said this film was ‘uproariously funny’, The Times described it as a ‘punchy, raucous, savagely smart screen comedy’ and LA Weekly called it ‘classic comedy gold, in many ways reminiscent of Monty Python’. It ‘mixes hard shocks and big laughs to often dazzling effect’ wrote Little White Lies and Empire Magazine proclaimed that the director’s ‘brand of political satire is applied to one of the darkest chapters in modern history, with sensational results’. 

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I didn’t get it. 

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I thought it was an interesting history lesson and the script was razor sharp but I failed to find any of it funny. It’s not that I couldn’t recognise the jokes when they came but they didn’t make me laugh. The film is about the power struggle that took place in 1950s Russia when the famous dictator passed away and it does not shy away from the multiple murders and rapes caused by those heading up the regime. I have no problem with there being a comedy about this, I’m all for laughing in the face of evil when you can, but I think the subject matter might have just put me in the wrong state of mind. 

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Even allowing for this the humour is certainly a lot more subtle than has been the case with writer/director Armando Iannucci’s other work. The film goes for amusing characters and fumbling comedy of manners rather than biting satire and sweary rants, the type of which we used to enjoy from Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker in In the Thick of It and In the Loop. They said it was uproariously funny and raucous though. I really can’t see it. The performances are good, the most entertaining ones coming from Jason Isaacs as Grand Marshal Zhukov and Steve Buscemi as Khruschev and the most disturbing coming from Simon Russell Beale as Chief of Security Lavrentiy Beria. Russell Beale is brilliant but cold and evil which generally aren’t things that raise a smile. 

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I don’t generally have a problem with black comedy and gallows humour, I really liked In Bruge and American Psycho and Doctor Strangelove is a work of genius, but on this occasion too many people really died and too many women were abused. This isn’t to criticise the film or anyone who enjoyed it but with other dictatorships having fallen in my adult lifetime, government sanctioned chauvinism still existing around the world, Trump in the White House and everything that has come out about Weinstein and other people in Hollywood recently, personally I just wasn’t in the mood. I get that all of this means now is absolutely the time for this film but I just didn’t connect with it in the way other people have. For me this was a comedy that actually stopped me laughing.

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Is this one for the kids?
The Death of Stalin is rated 15 and there is little to upset in terms of the swearing and the violence. Neither are held back on but neither are they over the top. In the same way that the upsetting content stops the film being funny, the general comedic tone stops it being too gruelling.

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The Ripley Factor:
The strongest and smartest characters in the movie are women. Khruschev’s wife is shown to be a lot more sensible than he is and Olga Kurylenko plays a commanding and forthright concert pianist who shows a lot more bravery than anyone around her. Ultimately though neither of these women have much of a narrative outside of how they interact with the men.

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