While not as bawdy as it could or should have been, Armando Iannucci’s (director on "In The Loop," scriptwriter on television's "Veep") determinedly British send up of the Russian political structure at the time of Joseph Stalin’s death is a satisfying political spoof.
With no German accents anywhere in earshot, the satire kicks in with Adrian Mcloughlin’s death (as Stalin) while listening to a freshly minted radio recording by Maria Yudina (Olga Kurylenko), a symphony pianist who sends Stalin a hate note along with the vinyl record for the Russian leader to mull over. A puddle of pee surrounds Stalin's [is-he-really-dead] corpse. Not pretty.
This goofy cinematic vantage on petty jealousies, backstabbing, and political maneuvering of Russia’s Central Committee gives the audience a not so unrealistic sense of how politicians operate regardless of their country of origin.
Jeffrey Tambor is delightfully insufferable as Deputy General Secretary Georgy Malenkov who wrangles to take command of Russia now that Stalin is out of the way. Malenkov has stiff competition in the likes of Lavrentiy Beria (exquisitely cast with Simon Russell Beale), the head of NKVD (Russia’s secret police called the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs. Steve Buscemi is predictably watchable as Nikita Khrushchev. Especially delicious is Michael Palin’s turn as Foreign Minister Vyachaslav Molotov. The former Monty Python actor and contributor hasn't lost his razor-sharp comic timing.
“The Death of Stalin” plays lighter than its subject matter projects. While another trip through the editing process could have helped, this is a movie that audiences will happily discover as time goes by. It doesn’t hurt that the film was banned in Russia. I wish it had been more transgressive to warrant such an action, but it’s got plenty of laughs as it is. Motherland or Home Land, it's all the same.
Rated R. 106 mins. (B) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)
Groupthink doesn't live here.