Rejoice Idris Elba enthusiasts. “Luther” the TV series is now “Luther” the movie. That means John Luther, the rule-breaking detective chief inspector that Elba has been playing on and off since 2010, is making his debut on the big screen prior to landing on Netflix on March 10.
Elba fills the theater screen in “Luther: The Fallen Sun.” It’s his most iconic role since he played Stringer Bell on “The Wire.” And newbies can enjoy the film without having seen a single episode of the series that ran for five seasons. But why deny yourself the pleasure?
Elba, 50, recently stirred controversy by refusing to label himself a Black actor, claiming “it put me in a box.” Hardly. This is an actor with no limits. His West African parents married in Sierra Leone and moved to London where Idris started with the National Youth Theater.
The rest is history with peak performances in epics (“The Suicide Squad”) and art-house favorites (“Beasts of No Nation”). “Luther: The Fallen Sun” calls on all of Elba’s resources as an actor and bonafide movie star. Elba has four Emmy nominations for playing Luther on TV. Can the “Luther” movie bring him into Oscar territory?
This time out, surveillance expert and cyber psychopath David Robey, compellingly played by Andy Serkis, is out to end DCI Luther. His weapon is shame, a threat of humiliation that Robey uses to build an army of accomplices to do his evil bidding on the streets of London. It’s Luther’s rough justice in bending the law that leaves him shamed and locked behind bars.
Not for long. Director Jamie Payne, working from a twisty and twisted script by Neil Cross, who’s written every episode of “Luther,” uses the large screen to stage a cinematically exciting prison break that gets Luther back in action. Hard to swallow, yeah, but who’s complaining.
If you’re thinking that serial killers and prison escapes are cliched fallbacks for the worst crime thrillers, you’re not wrong. But in the hands of such pros as Elba, Payne and Cross, everything old is new again. For me, their only gaffe is not bringing back sexy, sensational Ruth Wilson as Alice Morgan, a murderess with a thing for Luther that won’t quit.
OK, Alice seemed to die at the end of season 5. An easy fix, right? But the filmmakers wanted fresh characters for the movie version and except for Luther and his former boss, Martin Schenk (the irreplaceable Dermot Crowley), they get them.
Enter T mega-talented Cynthia Erivo, the musical star of “The Color Purple” with a genuine flair for drama. Erivo plays DCI Odette Raine, a cop who pursues Luther with the tenacity of Javert in “Les Miserables.”
If Raine has any vulnerability for Robey to pounce on, it’s her teen daughter, Anya (Lauryn Ajufo) and pounce he does. It all comes down to a perversely violent close (the R rating is well earned) when the sun falls over a snowbound mansion where bodies litter the entrance to the red bunker, a place where Robey reveals his bloody master plan.
No spoilers, except to say that “Luther: The Sun Falls” builds a world where privacy is an illusion, cameras surveil every move and the dark web unites the worst of humankind.
How can Luther stand against the prevailing corruption? As ever, he does it the hard way. And through Elba’s fierce, funny, charisma-packed portrayal of damaged goods an indelible impression emerges of a compromised cop holding on to his last shred of decency.
Can you mention John Luther in the same breath as such tormented good guys as Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and The Batman? Works for me. Elba is one of the greats. Who else could turn series TV into transfixing cinema.