Death of Stalin

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L&D had to venture out of our comfort zone (and discount price zone!) to catch Death of Stalin on the other side of town.   The eponymous title is pretty much the story, Stalin dies and then the real class struggle begins to replace him.   The acting is remarkable, with Jeffrey Tambor as a serviceable Georgy Malenkov (the heir apparent) and Steve Buscemi as a great Khrushchev (the inevitable apparent).  But the star of the show is  Simon Russell Beale who is other-worldly in his role as the head of state security, Lavrentiy Beria, with a performance that is so convincing, so troubling, I was physically unsettled for most of the film.   Beale’s performance exceeds what we saw with Gary Oldman as Churchill, for sure.

The movie is ostensibly a black comedy, and there are many, many laugh out loud moments, but I felt guilty laughing because the truth was probably even more horrible than what we were seeing on the screen.  It is kind of funny that there are no real doctors left in Moscow because Stalin eliminated them in his many purges, but Stalin really did eliminate these folks. And Beria probably did line up a different little girl to rape every night. And half of the world really was in the charge of folks who wouldn’t think twice about killing you over some real or perceived or contrived transgression. Buscemi as Khrushchev emerging as the voice of reason is both a relief and horrifying all at once.

It’s fair to say that the movie is more than a sum of its acting, as the set pieces, costumes, and general tenor are all convincing and excellent, and contribute to the unease that certainly will fill any thinking person.

So, big, big ups from L&D, with the caveat that maybe it’s better not to think too hard about the fact versus fiction in this one, as the facts are probably even worse than what this movie shows and implies.

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