“The Death of Stalin”



Dreadfully unfunny and surprisingly violent, “The Death of Stalin” is a huge historical misfire. I love political satire as much as anyone, but this film is insufferable with its back-slapping, elitist brand of supposed “humor.”

The film, directed and co-written by the oft-lauded Armando Iannucci (the writing brain behind the admittedly wonderful and snarky 2009 film “In the Loop” and the HBO series “Veep”), is set in Moscow in 1953 and follows the Soviet dictator’s last days, depicting the chaos of the regime after his death. While the bedlam brought about by the general incompetence of the power-hungry can be hilarious, here it isn’t. All attempts at irony, sarcasm, satire, and yes, even basic slapstick, fail miserably. The one-liners are sometimes mean and oftentimes not amusing, the wicked irreverence proving to be a distracting stumbling block.

The cast is inspired and the performances good enough, but nobody really is a standout. There’s bumbling Jeffrey Tambor as Georgy Malenkov and Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, and apparently we’re all supposed to find it uproariously hilarious that neither man speaks with a Russian accent. (If that is your idea of a great joke, then have at it).

This film fails as a farce, fails as a comedy, and fails as an enjoyable film. With such an esteemed pedigree behind the project, I’m shocked at how bad this actually is.


  1. Wow. There’s been so much love for this film to this point that I wasn’t quite expecting a dissenting opinion. I haven’t seen it yet. So, I can’t speak to it either way. I don’t adore Iannucci’s work the way some others do. As such, I had already lowered my expectations a bit (now even more so after your review), guessing the film might not be quite on the same wavelength with me. But since you say you actually quite enjoy Iannucci’s prior work it makes your reaction to Death of Stalin all the more surprising. Sorry to hear it’s apparently such a disappointment.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It certainly was for me. I didn’t even have high expectations but this one was a stinker. Sometimes I understand glowing reviews but with this I absolutely do not. I hope you see it because I’d love to hear your take on it.


  3. Thats a sad review Louisa. For me, this was a standout political satire that lampoons the political culture existing in many nations (with echoes in today’s America). The use of various British accents adds a cultural incongruity that is quite funny. The fact that the Russians have banned it speaks volumes for the forenisic accuracy of its wickedly black humour.


      1. Perhaps your’s is the only sane response. I wonder if the promise of a hilarious comedy was overstated? In a response to a commentI wrote: “On a line by line basis the film has no claim on original material. Even on a skit by skit or a scene by scene count it is relatively tame. But it is on the situational or contextual level that the film excels. The depiction of national leadership succession as akin to a barnyard squabble and the use of culturally incongruous accents is both original and funny”. Or maybe not.

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  4. Very funny film, although it is brutal and violent on the surface the undercurrent of satire is always there biting away, however, it made Stalin’s henchmen out to be a bunch of power-crazy idiots, in a way that may be offensive to their fans

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  5. The accents used weren’t for comedic reasons. In U.K. historical dramas, be it set in Ancient Rome or 1930s Germany, the tradition is to use regional English speaking accents. This allows for parallels to be drawn with the background of the production’s characters and the modern viewer’s cultural reference points. Obviously, this only works if the entire production is set in that dramatised culture, with no native English speakers depicted.


  6. Thanks for the review, Louisa. I’m amazed you enjoyed “In the loop” or “Veep”. I only see an artist honing his skill to a finer edge here. I enjoyed the film immensely! The writer/director has obviously realised he must take his focus to a different time – the current one is beyond parody.

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  7. I watched this film without having any previous knowledge of it, its director, or the graphic novel it was based on. It was recommended by a film critic I used to know who has a tendency to like his films “trendy”. That put me a bit on the defensive side but, regardless, I had no animosity towards Mr Iannucci up to that point.
    The film never rose beyond the promise of its first scene, which was rather clever and hinted at the film having an actual script. The rest? A surprisingly lowbrow burlesque that repeats the same one-note joke ad infinitum. All characters behave like one dimensional caricatures and much of the “humour” sustains itself on an endless discharge of expletives. The fact that so many critics have praised this turkey speaks more of the lowering intelectual standards of journalists and arts in general than of any merits the film may have had. There’s zero irony or insight in this political “satire”. Those who found it funny seem to reagrd themselves much higher than they actually stand.

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