Monday, 30 October 2017

Film Review No. 30 The Death of Stalin (15+)

Strong Points:
Strong cast
Satire galore
Lovely camera shots
Constant wordplay
General air of tension
Use of deliberately not Soviet accents

Weak Points:
Pacing could have been better
Sometimes confusing
One part was excessively gory

Some spoilers ahead:

In-depth Review:
The Death of Stalin is a satirical black comedy about the last days of Stalin and the power vacuum it creates. It uses the real-life historical events of Khrushchev, Malenkov and twists them ever so slightly into dark, comedic portrayals of a turmoil piece of history. It works.

We open with two separate storylines playing out: a dinner party and an orchestral performance. Both are connected by one thing - Stalin. Both have some great parts and performances although I believe the performance and subsequent recording clinches the 'better scene' title. It still had the 'try to please Stalin at all costs' vibe but without Stalin so everyone was allowed to be a little more free in speech. Although having the other politicians have their wives write down all they said that night and the reaction from Stalin to make sure they don't repeat it was great.

The opening sets the tone quite nicely for the film as a whole. It's just a massive game of words with everyone trying to trip the other person up with words. The film requires massive attention from the audience to understand all the jokes and who's actually winning the battle of wits. I won't spoil much here, but one of the biggest 'set pieces' is the politicians condemning people while not completely sure if the person has been pardoned or not.

The film is not 'laugh out loud' funny. It's more, sharp intake of breath and then a wonder - did the person next to me laugh at that too? This happened a lot (although some of the audience didn't get the memo and just burst into laughter which was almost as funny as the film to see). However, if you don't like wordplay humour there's also a lot of (still quite macabre) toilet humour to watch including an extended urine scene. Words can't really describe it too well.

The acting was all in all great, with stand out performances from Jason Issacs, Steve Buscemi and Simon Russel Beale. All were accompanied by the actor's own accents, which surprisingly worked - without the boundary of having to say everything in a separate accent, the actors were able to play around with how they said words a lot more. We also didn't have to worry about someone falling foul of an accent they can't do which was nice.

Everyone was out to gain power and stay alive, with a race beginning from as soon as Stalin hit the floor (before he even died). There was even a literal race between the two main sides of Khrushchev and Beria, trying to get to Stalin's daughter first. This was just one of the many standout scenes, rising in tension before culminating in the end where everything got very dark, very quickly. I felt that the pacing did start to lose itself by the end, and while I appreciated the brutal approach to the subject matter, it did feel at ends with the rest of the film.

A quick point I couldn't fit anywhere else: some of the wider camera shots were incredibly nice as well, showing the power of people compared to the state and the isolated conversations. Although we also had a shot of Stalin's head being ripped open, so you win some, you lose some.

Conclusion: overall, this is a distinct and humorous film which balances black and toilet humour well. You might even learn something (although don't use this film to replace history lessons!).

Rating: 80%

Thanks for reading, Satamer.

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