11/23/1992 at 01:00 AM EST
HBO (Sat., Nov. 21, 8 P.M. ET)
This study of Josef Stalin, the universally reviled tyrant, is mesmerizing, in large degree because of its star. Robert Duvall, heavy makeup transforming his face into a cruel, slightly Asiatic mask, radiates menace as the Soviet autocrat. More than 20 million Soviet citizens perished during his 24-year reign of terror, as this punishing paranoid remade a sprawling, agrarian country into an industrialized military superpower.
Shooting in and around Moscow, often within the Kremlin itself, director Ivan Passer and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond have crafted a dark, largely interior film that doesn't really concern itself with the big events of Stalin's regime. The focus, instead, is on the impact Stalin had on the people closest to him. Julia Ormond (see story, page 84) is appealing as the dictator's wife, Nadya. Impressive, too, is Jeroen Krabbé as the idealistic revolutionary Bukharin. And Roshan Seth is wonderfully sinister as Beria, Stalin's brutal hatchetman, the minister of interior affairs.
The strategy of taking a more personal approach to Stalin was wise, making this not a historical opus, but a great gangster movie.