Can’t take eyes off Luther
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.