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"Luther" - Movie Review

"Luther" - Movie Review

Genre:  Drama

Rating:  PG-13 (for disturbing images of violence)

Release Date:  September 26, 2003

Actors:  Joseph Fiennes, Alfred Molina, Jonathan Firth, Claire Cox, Peter Ustinov, Bruno Ganz, Uwe Ochsenknecht, Mathieu Carrière, Marco Hofschneider, Torben Liebrecht, Herb Andress, James Babson, Jeff Caster, Cesare Cremonini, Jens Winter

Director:  Eric Till

Special Notes:  Ironically, prior to accepting the film, Fiennes reluctantly turned down the role of Luther in the London National Theater’s Production of John Osborne’s play because of a schedule conflict. So, he already had a passion for the character and was prepared to play this role.

Plot:  The story begins in the year 1505 showing a young Martin Luther in a rain storm when a bolt of lightening lands close to him and prompts him to hang up his study of law and apply for acceptance the following day in an Augustinian monastery. The film then narrates Luther's pilgrimage to Rome in 1510 and shows people all over the steps of the church buying indulgences for relatives – a practice that makes the church wealthy and fools the poor. Luther rebels against the church and writes an essay of 95 theses which he nails on the church door. He is then hunted by the church which forces him to defend himself. Luther's life as an outlaw – excommunicated and banned by the Pope as well as the emperor – is depicted in the film, as well as his "exile" in the tower of the Wartburg castle, where he translated the entire New Testament into German within 11 weeks. The story shows how Luther’s deep faith and convictions made this German reformer both a rebel and a leader of his day.

Good:  This is an impressive production filmed with a big budget on over 100 sets and in 20 locations throughout Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic. Fiennes does an incredible job at taking a difficult role and making the man of history come to life in a real and deeply moving story. His portrayal of Luther showed him to be a charismatic man as well as a bit shy, defiant, playful and intense. And you can definitely see where Fiennes' Shakespearean training helped him portray this character. I always enjoy Ustinov on screen, and this time out he provides the comic relief and a few chuckles in this otherwise very serious movie. I liked this movie because for the first time I clearly understand what Luther did for the Christian church and how liberating it must have been to get out from under the tyranny of the Catholic church of that day. Realize that I am saying “of that day” because what the church was doing to the common people and the control it had on society back then was much different from the Catholic church of today. The movie doesn’t bash the Catholic church, rather it highlights how the Pope and Emperor Charles V exiled Luther because they didn’t understand his radical thinking and were afraid of the power he had over the people who were repressed and wanted a leader. Sound familiar? His teachings were considered radical because he told people to read the Bible – something common people didn’t do in those days, so no one knew the Word. Luther's whole message pointed back to reading the Word of God to tell them how to live and free them from paying for dead relatives to be freed from purgatory – a racket Luther clearly saw through. Luther didn’t enter the Church to change it, but obviously God wanted people to read His Word.

Bad:  There are several scenes of poor people dying, numerous people killed in a bloody battle and lots of discussions about the Church, relics and selling one's soul for money. The movie tends to feel a little long because it's such a detailed story and there are so many aspects to it. I think some of it could have been edited or more about his wife and children could have been added to bring some levity to the story. But if you’re interested in history, especially church history, you’ll be enthralled with this movie. 

Bottom Line:  I really enjoyed this movie. It will explain in a detailed and wonderful way exactly what Martin Luther was all about and how God used him to change the Church. It's a perfect movie to show a church group or for teaching in a teen group. I also enjoyed seeing the fact that he married a former nun and had children and enjoyed the rest of his life with his family.