The Death of Stalin
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Ocean's Views Score: 70%
I just saw The Death of Stalin. It was solid and I'm glad I saw it, but it also wreaks of Oscars residue: it's not quite at that level of resonance or provocation, but it is overall well done.
The performances across the board were great; each actor clearly understood the tone and style of humor being played at, and each one fit the stylized world smoothly. Jason Isaacs was a stand-out, giving so much substance to one extreme of the character spectrum that Jeffrey Tambor counters at the other end. Isaacs' unapologetic, totally fluid portrayal of Field Marshal Zhukov provided the serrated edge the film needed to sustain itself for an hour and 45 minutes. His performance is a great class for any actor in playing his/her/their character's bite with an intoxicating ease. I don't know how he does it, but it's awesome, and without it, the film would have risked lulling its audience into a monotonous loop about an hour in.
Tambor is wonderful in doing his Jeffrey Tambor thing: he plays a bubbling, wavering Georgy Malenkov who is written as the comedic punching bag for the other characters. Tambor's adeptness is on display both in how he rolls with it all but also in how he leans into it himself. His is a rare type of comedic mastery where he takes the one-dimensional comedic aspect that is obvious on the page and adds the extra dimension where it seems as though the actor is negotiating his character in just how far they will let it all go.
In between you have Steve Buscemi as Krushchev and Simon Russell Beale as Beria, with Olga Kurylenko straight-womaning the whole thing. Overall, it's an enjoyable film, but it falls short in the thinness of its writing. The cinematographic stylization is awesome, and the concept of parodying Stalin's Soviet Union is alluring; but unfortunately the film stops there. Yes, the chaos and incompetence of the Soviet leaders portrayed provides the tension necessary for a wonderful comedic platform, but the film only goes that far below the surface, and about midway through, the audience gets it. The ocean is a deep, mysterious, unknown place, and this film sits comfortably with the audience's body submerged but its head calmly above water, enjoying the scenery (I had to make an ocean analogy because of the title of the site, ya dig?). It's great if you're looking to do some light treading, but know that that's what you're in for.
TL;DR: See it if you're bored and have movie pass. See it if you're looking for a Wes Anderson-type of stylized cinematography fix and its cold out. See it if you're a cinephile.
Simon Russell Beale