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Critics reviews
The Death of Stalin
Armando Iannucci France, 2017
A blazingly funny writer, Iannucci has become a great director of actors, who with slow burns and pinpoint timing turn a political burlesque into a terrifyingly timely cautionary tale.
December 05, 2018
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The film looks ugly, all brown and red, and what makes it unlike Veep, Iannucci’s TV show, is that it looks worse and more decrepit than anything that would be allowed on HBO. The subquality aspects of the way it portrays totalitarianism save it from being TV instead of a movie.
July 16, 2018
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The best thing that Armando Iannucci has ever done. . . . The script doesn’t so much joke about dictatorship as find the very existence of authoritarianism to be one of humanity’s sickest, saddest, oldest jokes—a fine distinction, but an important one, because it prevents the film from feeling exploitative, instead lending it the feeling of a lament in which the storyteller laughs so that he won’t cry.
March 25, 2018
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Iannucci’s direction never has a grasp of either facts or consequences, falling back on the caustic byplay and revilement that works for Veep, in lieu of any sense of context (it is supposed to be February in Moscow, yet there isn’t a speck of snow on the ground). The only snowstorm onscreen is a blizzard of shtick from this group of free agents who never manage to mesh as an ensemble.
March 12, 2018
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It’s clear that Iannucci is not going for a full-on iteration of his brand of comedy. Yes, “The Death of Stalin” is a kind of farce, but it’s a mordant one. It never asks us to laugh at cruelty; it does make us laugh at the absurd pettiness and ultimate small-mindedness of the men perpetrating that cruelty. And Iannucci is a superb ringmaster.
March 09, 2018
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Nobody shuts up for a nanosecond in The Death of Stalin, a wickedly gabby black comedy. . . . Expertly wheeling between total stitch and holy terror as he searches for new victims to add to his infamous list of candidates for imminent knockoff, Beria and his roster propel the movie’s bitter running joke — the creation of a climate of insanity in which no one knows from one minute to the next what’s real and what’s fake news or, more frightening yet, no news.
March 08, 2018
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The laughs come in jolts and waves in “The Death of Stalin,” delivered in a brilliantly arranged mix of savage one-liners, lacerating dialogue and perfectly timed slapstick that wouldn’t be out of place in a Three Stooges bit. Turning horror into comedy is nothing new, but Mr. Iannucci’s unwavering embrace of these seemingly discordant genres as twin principles is bracing.
March 08, 2018
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Iannucci collapses the distance between 1953 and 2018 and Moscow and Washington in an interesting, even daring way. Despite its lavish period detail and scrupulously researched screenplay (by Iannucci and a trio of longtime collaborators), the film does not attempt to have its cast look or speak Russian, or even attempt accents. . . . If The Death of Stalin isn’t as startlingly funny as [In the Loop], it’s only because the mode of attack has grown familiar.
March 08, 2018
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A dark comedy with an inappropriately antic tone, opening here a week after Purim, The Death of Stalin has something to offend everyone—Slavophiles and Slavophobes, The Nation and The National Review, erudite professors and historical ignoramuses, neo-Stalinists and anti-Stalinists of all persuasions. As orchestrated by the British political satirist Armando Ianucci, . . . this impressively designed, perversely enjoyable movie travesties one of the most brutal regimes in human history.
March 07, 2018
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It would be a brilliant, harrowing film even without all that contemporary resonance. It’s filled with the kind of rapid-fire intramural contempt that Iannucci has made his stock-in-trade: His films and shows revel in the loathing and vitriol expressed by political figures at others who are ostensibly on the same side. It’s fun stuff, but in a deeply corrosive way – daring to suggest that people engaged in a soul-sickening endeavor will find, well, their souls sickened.
March 07, 2018
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The script, adapted by Iannucci, David Schneider, and Ian Martin from a French graphic novel, has its insights into the stark contrast between authoritarian ambitions and the shoddiness of life in Soviet Union under Stalin. . . . The situational humor is more varied than in In The Loop, even if it still largely comes down to a lot of people badgering each other in hallways, offices, and banquet halls. But the dialogue lacks the earlier film’s vicious, creative, lighting-fast profanity.
March 06, 2018
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In the first fifteen minutes, even before the generalissimus suffers his brain hemorrhage, Iannucci paints perhaps the most accurate picture of life under Soviet terror that anyone has ever committed to film. . . . Iannucci shows something that few people understand about Stalin’s reign and its aftermath: that it was both terrifying and ridiculous, and terrifying in its ridiculousness.
March 06, 2018
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Iannucci’s political satire has always operated via the farce of snowballing social faux pas, but the filmmaker has difficulty translating that to the Soviet system where those in power never even have to suffer the illusion of public accountability. . . . Zhukov’s magnetic presence and fearless demeanor brings focus back to The Death of Stalin, resulting in a climax of grisly moves that secure Khrushchev’s position at the top of the Soviet Union.
March 05, 2018
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The history of Stalinism is particularly bleak, even by Soviet standards, but director Armando Iannucci tells it like a joke. As comedy out of historical tragedy, The Death of Stalin is thankfully more Mel Brooks’s History of the World: Part I than Roberto Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful—which is to say dirty, irreverent, and riotously funny.
March 03, 2018
Much of the visual style – the blood-and-snow palette, the sense of the squirmingly personal caught within the rigid apparatus of state – is clearly inspired by the work of Nury and Robin, but the whipsmart dialogue and deftly syncopated timing are pure Iannucci. The film is uproariously funny but painfully close to the bone in a world where once again the lunatics have taken over the asylum.
October 19, 2017
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The film’s punchlines range from Steve Buscemi’s Nikita Khrushchev engaging in sassy banter, a puddle of Joseph Stalin’s piss, and a threat of the Gulag to any unlucky bystander. But even while laughing, you can almost feel Iannucci and Co. breathing over your shoulder, hoping to “make you think.” Not too different from the rest of today’s extended universe of “shots fired” liberal media, The Death of Stalin’s satirical bite has little longevity and potency.
September 12, 2017
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Taken strictly as a workout in elastic ensemble performance and rapid-fire verbal pugilism, The Death of Stalin is consistently entertaining. But enjoying Iannucci’s film means depoliticizing the source material (beyond stale gags about the pitfalls of collective decision-making) and reckoning with a certain privilege of perspective. A final scene puts Beria’s downfall in parallel to Khrushchev’s 11 years later—a final giveaway that Iannucci is more interested in easy slapstick than history.
September 10, 2017
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The vibe is very Monty Python, especially in the offhand, unperturbed delivery of lines like “Shoot her before him but make sure he sees it,” but when you score that with lots of period-appropriate classical music and ground it in actual terror — deployed largely in British accents indiscriminately mixed with Americans — the elements doesn’t gel.
September 09, 2017
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