Can’t take eyes off Luther

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - TELEVISION -

Guy Davis

OUR re-in­tro­duc­tion to mav­er­ick Lon­don cop De­tec­tive Chief In­spec­tor John Luther in the open­ing se­quence of the third sea­son of the gritty, vi­o­lent crime drama that bears his name walks a very fine line.

Heav­ily armed of­fi­cers swarm around a crime scene, clearly fac­ing a ma­jor threat of some un­known qual­ity.

The ten­sion is al­most tan­gi­ble. But fear not, be­cause strid­ing into the night, a hap­less crook in his vice-like grip, is Luther him­self, look­ing in­tense and fo­cused. Sin­gle-hand­edly, it seems, he’s de­fused the sit­u­a­tion yet again.

It’s so big and broad it shouldn’t work at all. But it’s not only Luther walk­ing into the frame. It’s also Idris Elba, the im­pos­ing, charis­matic and ter­ri­bly ta­lented ac­tor who brings him to life, and that makes a great deal of dif­fer­ence.

Don’t get me wrong – Luther is a com­pelling po­lice pro­ce­dural in its own right, with se­ries cre­ator Neil Cross fill­ing it with gut-churn­ingly lurid sce­nar­ios and fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ters op­er­at­ing on both sides of the law.

And he’s placed a tremen­dous pro­tag­o­nist at the heart of it, an in­tim­ida­tory in­tel­li­gent and pas­sion­ate po­lice of­fi­cer whose un­ortho­dox meth­ods, knack for find­ing trou­ble and in­abil­ity to get out of his own way make him a great in­ves­ti­ga­tor . . . and of­ten his own worst enemy.

One could say that about any num­ber of small-screen crime­fight­ers, though. It’s what Elba brings to the ta­ble that dis­tin­guishes Luther as a char­ac­ter and, in­deed, Luther as a se­ries. Elba’s movie ca­reer is also gath­er­ing mo­men­tum, thanks to eye-catch­ing roles in hits such as Pa­cific Rim.

To use a bit of a hack­neyed phrase, John Luther cares too much. He can’t turn away from those who are vic­timised.

And when the rules don’t al­low him to get the job done, well, he just does it any­way. He in­vari­ably gets away with it, al­beit barely, but it can come at a cost.

Peo­ple have a bad habit of dy­ing around Luther – some­times it’s the crim­i­nals he’s pur­su­ing, some­times it’s peo­ple he cares about.

And Elba con­veys the drive and the sub­se­quent col­lat­eral dam­age beau­ti­fully, us­ing his tall, strap­ping frame, emo­tive body lan­guage (the man walks bet­ter than any work­ing ac­tor) and subtly ex­pres­sive face to com­mu­ni­cate the char­ac­ter’s bot­tom­less reser­voirs of right­eous anger and bruis­ing pain.

There’s cause for both in th­ese new episodes, with our hero fac­ing con­flict from both sides. While Luther is busy chas­ing down a truly dis­turb­ing killer, he’s also the tar­get of ruth­less in­ter­nal af­fairs in­ves­ti­ga­tor Stark (David O’Hara), who isn’t above stron­garm­ing Luther’s young part­ner Ri­p­ley (War­ren Brown) into do­ing the dirty work.

The thing is, Stark kind of has a point. Luther gets re­sults but he leaves wreck­age strewn in his wake. Do the ends truly jus­tify the means and the cost? Of course, as an au­di­ence we’re be­hind Luther – tak­ing down evil-do­ers re­quires some­one un­afraid of get­ting a lit­tle blood on their hands. But Elba adds a vo­latil­ity and un­pre­dictabil­ity to the char­ac­ter that makes you won­der just how close to the edge he’s go­ing to go. And whether he’ll even­tu­ally fall from grace well and truly.

The re-emer­gence in later episodes of Luther’s soul­mate (in a twisted kind of way), bril­liant se­rial killer Alice (the be­guil­ing Ruth Wil­son, pic­tured), is set to take things even fur­ther in this di­rec­tion. Can’t wait.

Luther: Sun­days, ABC1, 8.30pm

Idris Elba as DCI John Luther in Luther.

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