Luther (2003)

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 Luther’s 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 we’re 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

About natezoebl

One man. Many movies. I am a cinephile (which spell-check suggests should really be "epinephine"). I was told that a passion for movies was in his blood since I was conceived at a movie convention. While scientifically questionable, I do remember a childhood where I would wake up Saturday mornings, bounce on my parents' bed, and watch Siskel and Ebert's syndicated TV show. That doesn't seem normal. At age 17, I began writing movie reviews and have been unable to stop ever since. I was the co-founder and chief editor at (2007-2014) and now write freelance. I have over 1400 written film reviews to my name and counting. I am also a proud member of the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA) since 2012. In my (dwindling) free time, I like to write uncontrollably. I wrote a theatrical genre mash-up adaptation titled "Our Town... Attacked by Zombies" that was staged at my alma mater, Capital University in the fall of 2010 with minimal causalities and zero lawsuits. I have also written or co-written sixteen screenplays and pilots, with one of those scripts reviewed on industry blog Script Shadow. Thanks to the positive exposure, I am now also dipping my toes into the very industry I've been obsessed over since I was yea-high to whatever people are yea-high to in comparisons.

Posted on September 29, 2003, in 2003 Movies and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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