It is I, Robert Mueller, and I have come to the White House to depose Trump and restore Hillary Clinton to her rightful place in the Oval Office.
For an American, or any westerner, honestly confronting the legacy of the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin can be especially difficult, or even impossible. On one hand, Stalin was a tyrant and a war criminal, an authoritarian who forever branded the idea of socialism with state repression. On the other hand, he’s a convenient scapegoat for ruling class apologists for capitalism and western imperialism, well paid propagandists who ignore, or even whitewash, their own demonic state criminals in favor of pointing the finger at Russia or China. Any American politician who praised Stalin, or even Lenin, would find his career over the next day, but they all gush over Winston Churchill, Henry Kissinger, and the rapist slave owners who founded the American republic. Armando Iannucci, the director of The Death of Stalin, is one of these hypocritical western, ruling class propagandists.
That being said, The Death of Stalin is an entertaining film, but only if you keep in mind one thing. It’s not really about Stalin or the Soviet Union, and to be honest, it doesn’t even pretend to be. It’s basically an extended Monty Python skit about a grotesque, incompetent, ruling elite jockeying for power after the death of their overpowering father figure. Think of it as The Sopranos, only with British actors cosplaying as Russians instead of Italian Americans from New Jersey. Michael Palin plays Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet diplomat who negotiated the “Hitler Stalin pact.” He’s an incompetent bumbling masochist on the verge of senility. Simon Russell Beale, who’s a dead ringer for Dick Cheney, plays Lavrentiy Beria, the head of Stalin’s secret police, and a serial rapist. Georgy Malenkov, Stalin’s chief of staff, is played by Jeffrey Tambor. He looks a bit like The Joker gone puffy and middle-aged. Andrea Riseborough plays Stalin’s daughter. She’s anxious and generally annoying. Rupert Friend plays Stalin’s drunken, half-insane son, who’s last seen threatening Zhou Enlai, played by an actor named David Wong. Last but not least, speaking of New Jersey Italians, Steve Buscemi plays Nikita Khrushchev. There’s not much to be said about his performance other than that he’s the last actor on earth I had expected to see cast in the part, and that he looks tired, and old. Just about the only thing that could have saved his performance is if Iannucci had paid homage to Fargo and had Beria, or some other Soviet thug, put him through a woodchipper. Obviously, since Khrushchev lived to become the premier of the Soviet Union, that couldn’t happen.
If the Death of Stalin has a hero, it’s probably Georgy Zhukov, played by the Liverpool born Jason Isaacs. That Zhukov, who commanded the Soviet Army at Stalingrad, actually was a hero, the man who deserves more credit for defeating Hitler than the mediocre Eisenhower or the bumbling incompetent Churchill, is besides the point. Zhukov really isn’t Zhukov. He’s just another Englishman. Unlike the rest of the cast, however, who are all presented as lecherous, grotesque, doddering old men – I honestly left the movie genuinely concerned that perhaps Michael Palin is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s — Isaacs comes off as youthful, or at least vigorously middle aged. It’s actually the most hilariously ironic thing about The Death of Stalin. Armando Iannucci, in the end, is just another Anglo American liberal who turns to jelly in the presence of a troop, any troop, even a commie general like Zhukov. Iannucci’s gone through all the trouble of making a purportedly “anti-authoritarian” movie and all he really wants in the end is a military coup. The Death of Stalin would be the perfect date movie for Rachel Maddow and Louise Mensch.
To be fair, the scene where a terrified radio producer has to re-stage a concert because Stalin demanded a recording that hadn’t been made is fucking hilarious and well worth sitting through 90 minutes of hideous old westerners pretending to hideous old Russians to see.