Reviewed by: Chris Monroe
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.
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