DCI John Luther takes on his most sinister adversary to date as the series makes the move from TV to movie.
After a decade on the small screen, BBC’s crime series Luther makes the leap to the Netflix-sized screen with the feature Luther: The Fallen Sun. Given that the show’s five seasons were spread out from 2010–2019, the movie doesn’t exactly have to make up for lost time. The Fallen Sun hits the ground running and doesn’t let up for its two-hour runtime. The world created by Neil Cross is just as twisted, grotesque, and fast-paced as ever, so fans of the show will surely enjoy what Cross has concocted.
For those unfamiliar, Luther follows the cases of the preternaturally gifted Detective Chief Inspector John Luther, who comes off as a mix of Psych’s Shawn Spencer and The Wire’s Jimmy McNulty. Luther’s talent at sussing out the truth in a byzantine case is matched by his knack for self-sabotage, but he is just good enough that no person or bureaucratic red tape can hold him down for long. In the hands of the wrong performer, Luther would be a ludicrous character. But he’s played by Idris Elba, who wears Luther’s staggering mental acuity and obsessiveness as the burden that it is.
The Fallen Sun gives Luther one of the most formidable opponents he’s faced to date in Andy Serkis’s David Robey, a killer who specializes in finding people’s darkest secrets and blackmailing them into doing his bidding. One of Robey’s first moves is to bring to light all of Luther’s indiscretions, landing the detective in jail and stripping him of his job. But if you think being locked in a cell and persona non grata with the police is going to stop John Luther from working this case, buddy, you don’t know John Luther.
In my mind, there are two things that set Luther about from other crime series: The first is Idris Elba, who continues to find new notes to keep Luther a compelling figure. The second is the nastiness of Cross’s imagination, which gives Luther an endless array of terrifying opponents to square off against. Cross allows his killers to be truly brutal, creating the sense that no one except Luther is safe. The show’s ability to shift between the horrors of the crimes and the intelligence of the detective work is downright Fincher-esque. Robey’s plan threads the needle of being elaborate to the point of parody and being deceptively simplistic. The Fallen Sun is about shame: hiding it, running from it, covering it up, exposing it, and, ultimately, accepting it. But the ways Robey weaponizes the shame of his targets is anything but simple.
I always considered Luther to be a show that excelled at setting up its stories and escalating the stakes before ultimately faltering a bit in the third act. For the most part, The Fallen Sun manages to stay strong to the very end, delivering a story that is riveting and satisfying. That’s due, in large part, to the cast. In addition to Elba, Dermot Crowley returns to his role as Luther’s long-suffering supervisor Martin Schenk. Elba and Crowley have the hard-earned camaraderie of colleagues-turned-friends, and their scenes lend the film enough levity to keep the whole affair from being an exercise in miserabilism. Serkis is utterly terrifying throughout, giving Robey gravitas and making him a worthwhile sparring partner for Luther.
The other new addition to this world is Cynthia Erivo as Odette Raine, who is brought in to lead the investigation and search for Robey after Luther is sent to prison. Erivo is the kind of actor who can steal a movie in a single scene, and it’s always a pleasure to watch her work.
Luther has always been fairly cinematic in its construction, with elaborate cases that usually play out over a couple episodes at a time, so Cross’s screenplay for The Fallen Sun feels right in line with the show. The plotting is tight and Cross does not waste time with exposition. He keeps the action moving at a breakneck pace, and director Jamie Payne (who helmed all four episodes of the fifth series) matches that energy. The scope of The Fallen Sun is impressive, and Payne uses the jump in budget to his advantage. Luther has never looked this good or had set-pieces as breathtaking as what Payne is able to pull off here. The Fallen Sun earns its jump up to feature status.
Luther: The Fallen Sun is now playing in select theaters and debuts on Netflix on March 10th.