The Films of Armando Iannucci
In the Loop
The Death of Stalin (March 2/18)
An often interminable misfire, The Death of Stalin follows several high-ranking figures within Josef Stalin's (Adrian McLoughlin) inner circle as they scramble to keep things running smoothly in the wake of their fearsome leader's passing. Filmmaker Armando Iannucci delivers a strong opening that seems to promise a fast-paced, irreverent political comedy, as The Death of Stalin kicks off with an amusing stretch detailing an increasingly frantic technician's (Paddy Considine's Andreyev) efforts at recording a musical performance for Stalin. Beyond that point, however, the picture begins its slow-but-steady transformation into a seriously (and aggressively) aimless work devoid of engaging elements - with the meandering, momentum-free narrative lurching from one barely-amusing set piece to the next (eg Stalin's crew attempts to move his dying body from the floor to the bed). There's ultimately nothing real or compelling at stake here; Iannucci offers up a dialogue-heavy structure that rarely seems as though it's building to anything significant (and indeed it doesn't), with the movie's pervasively uninvolving atmosphere compounded by an almost complete lack of laughs. It does, in the end, go without saying that The Death of Stalin feels mostly like a poorly-adapted stage play, which is a shame, certainly, given the potential of the setup and the strength of the cast (which includes Steve Buscemi and Jeffrey Tambor).