Adapting the character- and plot-thick “Luther” into a two-hour film comes with a big caveat. Series creator and film scriptwriter Neil Cross has whittled away to the barest of what draws us to “Luther,” keeping us fully in the legendary hard-bitten detective’s shoes while spinning a terrifying web around him that threatens to strangle him and anyone caught in it. While “Luther” wasn’t your everyday police procedural series where each case is started and wrapped in one hour, Luther: The Fallen Sun is, yet it finds the space to fully flesh out both hero and villain to make a rich, thorough story in the time allotted.
Cross takes his muted-yet-shocking approach to “Luther” and translates it successfully into a feature film, with all the requisite twists and horror of the series. Coming with Cross is season 5 director Jamie Payne, who creates the dark world of DCI John Luther, played faithfully by Idris Elba, complete with his limp and gruff demeanor. Elba steps back into this role for the big screen and doesn’t miss a beat, stocking Luther with all the weight and trauma that he wears like a millstone that slouches his shoulders and forces him into a posture that looks like he has to protect what little soul he has left.
Known mostly for his unorthodox and violent methods of bringing criminals to justice, he’s on the receiving end of it this time, arrested at the end of season 5 for the many lines he’s crossed in pursuit of his various quarries. New context is given to his arrest, as he’s first introduced in the film working on a kidnapping concurrent with the case that would eventually lead to his imprisonment. However, we also meet the horrifying psychopath behind his arrest, David Robey (Andy Serkis), who needs to get Luther off his scent while he runs around London collecting victims for his utterly sickening purposes.
Robey is a chameleon, slipping in and out of disguises and moving unchecked while disappearances around London and greater Europe start racking up. With the only man capable of standing in his way behind bars, Robey delights in running his plans to their ends, toying with his victims’ families and taunting them as he watches them discover what’s become of their loved ones. Andy Serkis brings Robey to gut-wrenching, detestable life with a gleam in his contact lensed-eyes, knowing full well that he’s doing the worst to these people and enjoying every second of it.
All it takes is Robey taunting Luther via radio broadcast to prompt a daring jailbreak, the essence of which is pared down to one statement: “Let them come at me,” Luther says, referring to the hostile population just outside his cell door. (Let’s put it this way: As he is escorted to lunch, every prisoner around is chanting “Stand up if you hate police!”) It’s equal parts bravado, fear, and lunacy, but it’s enough to get him back on Robey’s trail. But working against him is his replacement in the Metropolitan Police Service, DCI Odette Raine (Cynthia Erivo), who wants none of his kind of tactics mucking up her case and ruining a possible prosecution. But it’s only a matter of time before Raine must work with Luther, no matter how careful she wishes to tread.
Payne and Cross do well recreating the suffocating hopelessness of the series, supercharged primarily by Robey and how easily he can navigate the internet to find whoever he wants. “How do you catch someone who can get to anyone?” Raine asks in desperation. Robey is that guy we all fear, a man who acts with impunity and can’t be touched or found. The way Payne shows it, the guy’s a phantom who uses his victims’ dark secrets against them, with his reach even poisoning Raine’s very department. Similar to previous villains in the series, his acts are the stuff nightmares are made of, appallingly showcased through Liz Ainley’s and Liz Griffith’s set decoration and captured with cinematographer Larry Smith’s stark compositions. It’s interesting to see how these elements continue a hanging motif established in artwork seen in the opening credits; some hang by ropes while others simply hang in a hideous stasis.
The series has always been about one man avenging the sin upon the sinner at damaging costs. His process, while the product of a genius mind, often only differs from that of the killers because he wears a badge. In Luther: The Fallen Sun, he’s stripped of his badge; thus, he’s off the leash, perhaps at his most lethal. Neil Cross’ script allows Luther to wield this freedom without restraint, but he also makes sure to keep us hooked by Luther staying tight on Robey’s heels and hoping to keep one step ahead of DCI Raine and her squad. It’s a dangerous game Luther plays, but what would any episode of “Luther” or this film be without grisly murders and our anti-hero doing everything it takes to solve them? Luther: The Fallen Sun is a rousing success, making the jump to a feature-length film without hesitation or remorse, showing us the worst of human darkness and asking us to follow Luther into the abyss.