Certain things can pass under my radar. Previously it’s been items like female flirtation and the due dates of papers. So imagine my befuddled surprise when last weekend my father, himself a Lutheran minister, said the family was going to hop on over to the movie theater and catch a historic bio-flick about Martin Luther, plainly titled Luther. I had no idea this movie existed. And after seeing it, it left no strong memory that it did.
Luther (Joseph Fiennes, Shakespeare in Love) is a 16th century German monk with some quibbles with the Catholic Church. Seems Luther doesn’t like how the Church is preying upon people’s faith for money, most notably its chief indulgence seller Johann Tetzel (Alfred Molina, with a criminally scant appearance). He makes up a list of 95 grievances, nails them to the doors of a church, and thus Protestantism is born. Luther’s ideas catch on wit the lower classes through rampant publication, thanks to the newfound printing press. The princes of the German states also like what this monk is cooking, and they decide to hold him in safety. The Catholic Church, however, is none too pleased. They threaten excommunication and eventually death, and keep pushing for Luther to recant. But Luther feels he must stand strong in his convictions.
The acting is fine, and the direction is passable, but the pacing of Luther is like tracking the movement of a glacier. Some representative decisions are also fairly stupid. To try and communicate Luthers internal struggle he hits his head and yells like at voices. The first time it’s funny. The next five times, it’s dumb. There’s also a dirty peasant child who’s crippled but still a big fan of the Luther Man. Her gaping tooth smile has more screen time than some characters. Later in the film the peasant revolts ravage through the country with thousands massacred. Luther visits the ruins and comes across the little girl’s broken crutch and breaks down and cries. If you were in my theater you probably heard me hitting my forehead repeatedly (no voices though).
The film is an admirable effort, but Luther ultimately fails because of the measures of film. To try and tell the story of Luther would be more appropriate for the confines of a miniseries, not a two-hour movie. The Reformation and its players lose its impact in such a shrift retelling. What the audience gets is a pared Cliff notes version that misses the richness, and gives lip service to the historical importance. What were left with are endless scenes where people dress up and talk and talk and talk. Without a sense of weight for character or story, the countless talky moments blur into tedium. If I had a sleeping bag with me I would have curled up into it.
Another problem is the lack of makeup. The film spans thirty-some years and yet Fiennes doesn’t age a day. My mother proposed that maybe he didn’t want to look old and decrepit in the film. I responded by saying, He let them shave his head but he didn’t want anybody to splash some gray in his hair?
I guess if you judge movies on costumes or production values, Luther would be competent. But does anyone go to a film saying, ”Man, I sure hope those costumes and sets are incredible! Fingers crossed!?” Luther is a well-meaning bore that only historical enthusiasts and Lutherans might enjoy.
Nate’s Grade: C
Posted on September 29, 2003, in 2003 Movies and tagged alfred molina, biopic, bruno ganz, christianity, drama, joseph fiennes, period film. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.
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