Thursday, February 02, 2006

"Luther" The Movie

I finally sat down and watched "Luther" last night. (Netflix is truly a wonderful thing for armchair film critics.) The movie, of course, was based on the life of Reformation hero/villain Martin Luther (depending on what side you are on).

I like good historical period films. This one was especially up my alley as a sort of a nexus of several of my interests: history, film, theology, etc. I give this one three out of five arrows. It was good and worth seeing if you have the time but is not a "drop everything and go see it" sort of film. Luther is just such an interesting character in his own right that even if the film is not 5 stars (or arrows in my case) that it would like be thought provoking regardless.

I sort of got the impression going through this film that it was a Man for All Seasons wannabe. That movie is about Thomas More, another Reformation era character and a fabulous movie. (You will notice sometime in chapel I have a Thomas More icon.) Luther, and I am not sure if this was intentional or not on the part of the director, used several camera shots of the Diet of Worms scene and others that were very reminiscent of Man for All Seasons. I do not think it was a ripoff, by any means, but it was very similar in some respects in terms of cinematography. I did think the period costumes and all were very well done.

While passable, I do not think Joseph Fiennes played that particularly good a Martin Luther. The man was devoid of facial expressions and not that particularly inspiring of a revolutionary. I watched the cast interview DVD extras, and Fiennes certainly did that on purpose because he believed Luther was a man with doubts. I would concede the point that that might have been the case in the beginning of Luther's career. I just cannot envision a revolutionary who was willing to stand up to the might of Rome and run the very real risk of being burned as a heretic who was a wishy-washy, passionless presence. The things I have read by Luther make me believe he was crude and larger than life. Fiennes' Luther just did not have that larger than life feel to me. I guess that falls under interpretation issue and is neither here nor there. Creative difference, as they say. In Fiennes' defense, there were a few scenes where he sort of came out of his shell and bordered on being fiesty but this was largely an aberration.

Peter Ustinov sort of steals the show though as Frederick the Wise. Of course, Ustinov is such an incredible character actor that it would be hard to do otherwise. Alfred Molina has an interesting take as John Tetzel, the seller of indulgences. Molina did a good job of not making Tetzel out to be the stereotypical evil villain but as a hard working man just trying to do what he thought was right. Molina, if you are unfamiliar with him, always has the most interesting roles, having been in everything from Raiders of the Lost Ark to Dudley Do-Right. This is another fine edition to his eclectic resume.

While not A Man for All Seasons, Luther does capture the overall flavor of the era pretty well. It is rather biased in favor of Luther and against Rome, but not heavy handedly so. Luther is a good attempt that falls a bit short.

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