Luther Review

Luther, the latest biopic to be taken from the life of the 15th century Protestant reformist, manages to both avoid and succumb to the pitfalls inherent in the form. It covers the “little German monk” from the age of 24 until 13 years before his death, but importantly focuses its attentions onto one facet of his existence. As such we rather speed through his first mass, say, or his married life years later, yet we do get to concentrate on his essential achievement, namely the doctrine that religion comes down to faith and not the works of an individual. Whether it does this with the requisite depth, however, is another question for Luther is very much a mainstream prospect.

Indeed, it could be viewed as a biopic for beginners. Most likely the filmmakers are appealing to an audience who will know little of the eponymous figure and as such we do get an edge of simplicity. Early on Luther is marked out as someone who wants “to change things”, and oftentimes this is as deep as it gets. Moreover, there are few grey areas to be found, rather Luther is a film strictly of heroes and villains. In the supplementary material Alfred Molina puts the case forward for his character, Johann Tetzel, a Dominican monk who sold indulgences as a means of financing his faith and as a result met the wrath of Luther. In doing so he offers a convincing argument, yet any such elements are conspicuously missing in the finished article; he’s firmly established as one of the chief bad guys and we are expected to boo and hiss accordingly.

If we accept Luther’s mainstream ambitions, however, then it does succeed as a moderate piece of entertainment. Its simplicity – not to mention repetition considering how many times we are informed of Rome’s corruption – does at the very least make it a highly accessible work. Indeed, this element can be found throughout. Joseph Fiennes, in the lead role, turns in a performance which is suitably dynamic; the anger, emotion and conviction are all there and he even gets a few show stopping schizophrenic moments in which he verbally beats himself up. Likewise, Peter Ustinov provides an agreeably hammy turn, one which often seems at odd with the rest of the production, but is a welcome addition nonetheless. And then there’s the fine sense of opulence despite what looks like a restricted budget (at time Luther looks very much like a television venture despite gaining theatrical showings in an impressive number of territories including the US) which aids the film immeasurably, even if some of the computer trickery is a little too apparent.

Yet despite offering such moderate enjoyments Luther can only succeed so far as it never comes across as a challenging work. Despite its subject, the richness and depth which is possible simply isn’t there; its overall basic nature even makes it seem a mite predictable, whether you’re aware of Luther or not. As such it shouldn’t be considered as anything more than an introduction to its subject, and in its own way is as flawed as the last major retelling of Luther’s life, Guy Green’s 1973 big screen adaptation of the John Osbourne play.

The Disc

Luther comes to UK DVD with a decent if not perfect presentation. We get an anamorphic transfer (at a ratio of 1.78:1, one slightly cropping the original 1.85:1) of an expectedly clean print, but there are signs of artefacting which do prove distracting. That said, this is the only flaw to speak of and otherwise the film and its sets come across agreeably well. As for the soundtrack, Luther comes with a DD2.0 mix which is agreeably clean and possesses the requisite clarity. The problem with this is that the film should come with a DD5.1 accompaniment and as such the sound rating has been marked down accordingly. (The US Region 1 disc does come with a DD5.1 mix.)

As for extras, Metrodome’s disc offers a mixture of the worthy and the so-so. The bulk of the special features are interviews which individually amount to very little. At one or two minutes apiece these discussions with the majority of lead actors and various crew members understandably can only touch the surface, yet in combination they do lead to overall sense of Luther’s production. Also present is a ‘Behind the Scenes’ featurette which provides a hodgepodge of such material. We get some B-roll footage, a brief look at the sets with production designer Rolf Zehetbauer, and a glimpse at Ustinov on-set and recording some overdubs in the studio. Again, individually these amount to very little (plus there’s no contextualising), but together offer a sense of the production.

Rounding off the package we also get a handful of standard offerings: the theatrical trailer, a picture gallery of production stills, text notes on Luther and some promos for other Metrodome releases.

As with the main feature, none of these extras come with optional subtitles.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 08:09:49

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