Movie Review

LUTHER (2003)

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing images of violence

Reviewed by: Chris Monroe
STAFF WRITER

Excellent!
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults (and okay for older children)
Genre:
Historial Drama
Length:
1 hr. 52 min.

Starring: Joseph Fiennes, Alfred Molina, Claire Cox, Peter Ustinov, Bruno Ganz, Uwe Ochsenknecht, Mathieu Carriere, Benjamin Sadler, Marco Hofschneider, Torben Liebrecht | Directed by: Eric Till (Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace) | Produced by: Brigitte Rochow, Christian P. Stehr, Alexander Thies | Written by: Camille Thomasson, Bart Gavigan | Distributor: RS Entertainment, an NFP Teleart production.

Copyright, RS Entertainment
Copyright, RS Entertainment
Copyright, RS Entertainment
Copyright, RS Entertainment
Copyright, RS Entertainment
Copyright, RS Entertainment
Copyright, RS Entertainment
Copyright, RS Entertainment
Copyright, RS Entertainment
Copyright, RS Entertainment
Copyright, RS Entertainment
Copyright, RS Entertainment
Copyright, RS Entertainment
Relevant Issues

With so many denominations and religions, how can I decide which are true and which are false? Answer

Martin Luther believed in sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). Is sola Scriptura a biblical or a man-made concept? What about traditions? Answer

Is the Bible truly the final authority in all matters of faith and morals? Answer

What did the Early Church believe about sola Scriptura? Answer

An open letter to Roman Catholics from a concerned Bible-believing Christian - GO

What issues sometimes separate Roman Catholics from God? Answer

Martin Luther ultimately left the Roman Catholic Church. Read modern day stories of Catholics who have also left and why:


 

Take William Wallace’s sword away and arm him Bible and pen. Throw out battle with England and set him against leaders of the medieval Catholic Church, considered to be the greatest power on earth. Exchange political leadership for spiritual leadership. Retain all that fire and conviction, and you will witness the brave heart that launched the Protestant Reformation. Acquainted with this revolutionary historical figure of Christendom? Regardless your familiarity, it will benefit anyone to see the excellent, educational entertainment of the film “Luther”.

Starting with a terrified law student, pleading with God to spare his life during a lightening storm, this story takes Martin Luther full circle until he comes to know God as his loving, caring and compassionate Creator. Coursing through his spiritual journey in this film are the radical events from 1516 to 1530 involving Luther’s conversion, transition to ministry, writing his defiant 95 Theses, his climactic trial before Rome, excommunication, and a translation of the Bible for the common man.

Starting with the cast, this production is stacked with talent on all sides. Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare In Love, Elizabeth) plays Luther, accompanied by two-time Oscar winner Peter Ustinov (Spartacus, Topkapi) as Prince Frederick the Wise, and also includes Alfred Molina and Claire Cox, to name a few. On the other side of the camera is Director Eric Till (whose work has been recognized at the Cannes Film Festival), Academy Award nominated cinematographer Robert Fraisse (“Seven Years in Tibet”; “The Lover”) and Academy Award winning Production Designer Rolf Zehetbauer (Cabaret). All in all, the production value is top notch.

The screenwriters have courageously included scenes about placing faith in Christ. To start with, Luther is fearfully wrestling with God in prayer when his spiritual mentor, Father Johann von Staupitz (Bruno Ganz), leads him in a simple sinner’s prayer, “I am Yours, Lord. Save me.” This line resurfaces later in the film when Luther is in prayer again, struggling with doubts before he answers before the church leaders in Rome. Another delightful moment is when Luther begins preaching and tells the congregation what it means to be free from the accusations of the devil when you are in Christ.

At times the dialogue is so rich, it is hard to appreciate it all. In one scene Staupitz tells Luther, “We preach best what we need to learn most.” Later, after Luther is exiled and begins translating the Bible, a friend tells him, “A translation for the common man is what the Catholic Church fears most!” to which Luther replies, “Well, you can blame the Author for that.” And Luther’s conviction for translation is summed up in his line: “The language of the Bible should be heard like a mother talking to her children.”

VIOLENCE/LANGUAGE: One might want to know about scenes surrounding a young boy’s suicide. When Luther finds the boy, he is hanging dead. (This is the only real violence in the film, aside from another moment where Luther discovers a town full of dead bodies.) This scene also has the only profanity (minor) you will hear in the film, too. Alone, Luther is exceedingly distraught over this boy’s death, and blames the devil for it, calling him a sh*t.

The romantic side of the story comes late in the film and it seems at first to just be arbitrarily tacked on. However, by placing it at the end it provides a great arch for Luther’s character. After Luther and Katerina von Borg (Clair Cox) marry, there is a brief moment where they’re fully clothed and start to kiss in bed, but are soon interrupted by an emergency.

“Luther” carries a lot of the same good will that Franco Zeffirelli’s film “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” does as it tells the true story of St. Francis of Assisi and his faith. Some may criticize that “Luther” has left out other controversial angles of Martin Luther’s life, but it respectfully manages to balance his humanity with the positive effects of his work. And accompanied by an original, lovely score by Richard Harvey makes this film a great experience for the family and one to add to the home movie library.

Violence: Minor | Profanity: Minor | Sex/Nudity: None

Editor’s note: “Luther” is a big-screen historial epic, ennobling and uplifting. It was shot on over 100 sets, in 20 locations throughout Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic. We highly recommend it. It ultimately speaks to people’s faith, with a good presentation of the Gospel and deserves to be supported by Christians when there are so few uplifting and faith-based theatrical films. This is a story worth knowing. Martin Luther’s bold actions were used by God to produce an era of personal and religious freedoms unprecedented in history.

Year of Release—2003

Viewer Comments
Positive—My husband and I were enthralled with this movie. The BEST movie we have ever seen. It gave the gospel message clearly and in an uplifting and practical manner. If you have unsaved friends and family, send them to see this film immediately!!
My Ratings: [Excellent! /5]
—Lori Erickson, age 41
Positive—Very shocking to see a movie of this calibre showing at a mall theater complex on a Saturday night alongside sex and violence films! Why shocking? Because this movie dramatically promotes faith in Jesus Christ and portrays Christians willing to stand up for their faith and to die for it. The quality of this movie is excellent with great acting, beautiful sets, authentic costumes etc. Exciting camera angles and dramatic shots. You come away wanting to find out more about Martin Luther, played by Joseph Fiennes of “Shakespeare In Love” and “Enemy At The Gates.” Yes, Fiennes is a lot thinner than the real Luther and perhaps more refined, but what a wonderful experience! Can’t wait to buy the DVD.
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 5]
—Christopher Winter, age 48
Positive—I am a Lutheran Pastor and I thought the movie was wonderfully done, gave a great witness to Jesus Christ and was far more accurate than I thought it might be. I am looking forward to getting it on DVD.
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 5]
—Rev. Mark D. Ochsankehl, age 45
Positive—this film has raised the bar for all Christian film. In terms of historical theological drama, in the past Christians could only look to the Academy Award winning “A Man For All Seasons” as a movie that supported their heroes of the faith. This was an excellent movie, but in comparison to modern historical dramas like “Braveheart” it would seem boring and uneventful. “Luther”, on the other hand, takes what seems like a dry dusty old story and gives color and depth to the man that changed the Christian faith forever. Not only is this film very true to history, it is actually well made! For all of you who are sick of films like the “Left Behind” series or “A Walk to Remember,” let me assure you that Luther is made on the scale of a real Hollywood production. Each camera shot is carefully framed to show brilliant set construction, not to mention the on-location shooting which provided a very authentic feel to the film. In addition to its aesthetic beauty, Martin Luther is portrayed as a real man. Something to watch for in the film is near the beginning where Luther is in prayer and struggling with his faith, and he exclaims a profane word. I’m sure that critics will cry foul of this, however if they bother to read their history they will find that it is not uncommon to find reference to Luther using profanity both in and out of his printed works. In other words, I am simply asking people to learn and think before they condemn. This is an excellent movie that will leave anyone who has a hunger to learn the history of their faith speechless. For further reading on Martin Luther I would suggest Heiko Oberman’s “Luther: Man Between God and the Devil,” for a slightly easier read try Roland Bainton’s “Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther” and finally for an enlightening take on Luther’s everyday life try Jim West’s “Drinking With Calvin and Luther.”
My Ratings: [Good / 5]
—Tom Breimaier, age 19
Positive—I am a non-denominational Christian who believes to receive salvation you must believe that you are a sinner in need of a savior and ACCEPT Christ’s payment on the cross as your only way of entering heaven. I believe that this movie was good at illustrating that point, that you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven by paying for it (Ephesians 2:8,9 and John 3:16). It was a refreshing movie and one that Christian’s can use as a witnessing tool.
My Ratings: [Excellent!/5]
—Anita Kelliher, age 32
Positive—This is a wonderful film that should be viewed by everyone! Without being from a postmodernistic Hollywood viewpoint, “Luther” drives the point home. Great film! Peter Ustinov steals the show as Frederick the Wise. As a college history major, I find this to be pretty historically accurate.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Shannon Hammell, age 22
Neutral—Very often people will endorse a moral, Christian film based soley on that merit alone. This is NOT one of those endorsements. This is an incredible film. I was literally brought to tears several times—the movie is that powerful. The gospel message is clear and dynamic. It is so hard to imagine the great theological darkness that covered the landscape at that time. The “By Grace you are saved through faih” message pierced this darkness so graphically—I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Do not wait—this type of film does not last long at the standard box office.
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 5]
—Mike Koger, age 42
Positive—Possibly one of the most insightful, fascinating, and profound movies to come out in twenty years. It also has the most open and honest glimpse into salvation I have ever seen on the big screen. If you have any opportunity to view this big-budget Independent film, take it. From a purely historical standpoint, the film offers a shocking glimpse into power and politics, as Cardinals attempt to bend and wrestle princes and monarchs to their side. It’s a shame, but this film will probably not be recognized at the Oscars due to its strong religious tone. Therefore allow it to be said that the center core of actors all deserve Oscars for their performances, particularly Joseph Fiennes, Jonathan Firth, and Peter Ustinov. The costuming, visual effects, and writing are all fantastic. The dialogue is unusually rich, spattered with direct quotes from Luther’s literary works. The best thing is the quality of the filmmaking. A lot of money was poured into this production. Not only will this receive greater recognition as a “serious” movie, it will also attract larger audiences due to the quality, budget, massive locations, and cast list. Secular audiences will get an open story of salvation. Christian audiences will have the pleasure of finally having a hero to root for in the cinema, a man who stands up for his faith against all odds.
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 4]
Charity Bishop, age 20
Positive—As far as I could see, this film was quite historical other than the fact that they didn’t show them trying to bribe Luther the night before his interrogation.
My Ratings: [Good/4]
—Bob C., age 40
Movie Critics
…Engrossing. The ultimate power of ‘Luther’ is the story: an affecting portrait of a man who changed the world…
—Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times
…a stirring, sweeping historical epic filled with many universal truths…
—Bill Zwecker, Chicago Sun-Times
…one of the best movies of 2003 …must watching …entertaining, powerful portrait of the Truth which people of all faiths will appreciate and enjoy. …MOVIEGUIDE can find little or nothing wrong, factually speaking, with the historical portrayal of this part of Luther’s life…
—Dr. Ted Baehr, Movieguide
…bites off more ecclesiastical history than it can chew in two hours (it shoulda been a miniseries). Fiennes is fine—if a bit too controlled—and the supporting cast shines. But Luther is more educational than engaging…
—E! Online
…Attempting as it does to court …its core constituency of Lutherans, but also to appear to the broadest base possible of moviegoers, it necessarily condenses and simplifies so many issues, many of them philosophical and ideological, that it lapses into generalizations, sidestepping balance and subtleties…
—Ed Blank, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
…the movie is pretty to watch, beautifully filmed …sumptuous costumes …The first half of the film moves along briskly, alternating between the monk’s spiritual conflicts and his political calculations, but the bio-pic loses focus after his trial…
—Rex Roberts, Film Journal International
…impressive, big-budget production …makes the man of history come to life in a real and deeply moving story…
—Holly McClure, Crosswalk