Monday, 11 September 2017

THE DEATH OF STALIN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2017 serves up lame political satire.

Steve Buscemi delivers the performance of a lifetime.

The Death of Stalin (2017)
Dir. Armando Iannucci
Scr. Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin, Peter Fellows
Nvl. Fabien Nury
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Adrian Mcloughlin, Olga Kurylenko, Michael Palin, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Andrea Riseborough, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Paul Whitehouse, Dermot Crowley

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Since he murdered 10 million of my people in Ukraine during the Holodomor, one of the most horrendous genocides of the 20th century, my pump was primed for a glorious satire about the final gasps of life from the Georgian-Russian butcher Joseph Stalin. Unfortunately, the scattershot, overwrought affair that is The Death of Stalin did so little for me as a movie, my heart sank more than a few times while it unspooled.

Not that there aren't a few laughs to be wrought from this manic look at the bushy-moustachioed scumbag-dictator during his last night on earth and the ensuing backdoor power grabs by his cabinet. Most of the guffaws come courtesy of Steve Buscemi as a malevolently wise-acre Nikita Khrushchev. This might be the performance of a lifetime - he's a hurricane-like force amidst a movie that otherwise suffers from massive tonal uncertainty.

The best satire is played dead-straight, but too often director Iannucci resorts to pitching things as "spoof" or worse, like some TV sitcom. The whole affair seems little more than Weekend at Bernie's, albeit set against the backdrop of the Kremlin in 1953 as opposed to the Hamptons in the late 80s. The film is not without some mirth at the expense of the victims of Stalin's purges - God knows why, but seeing Russians following ridiculously exhaustive death lists and summarily executing hapless "enemies of the state" elicited more than a few knee-slaps from this fella. I also loved Jeffrey Tambor's rendering of Malenkov, the ineffectually lunkheaded figurehead propped up to replace Der Russkie Führer.

Alas, the movie just proved to be exhausting. It tries too hard to be funny and when we can see those seams in the fabric we're constantly focusing on the flaws of the designer clothing hanging upon a massive markdown rack at Winner's. As such, we're indelicately wrenched out of the forward thrust. Indelicacy in a satire is just fine, but better it be inherent in the subject matter and characters rather than only within the structure of the work itself.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: **½ Two-and-a-Half Stars

The Death of Stalin plays at TIFF 2017.