A review of “Luther” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for intense violence and religious sacrilege

Run Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

  

 

The mercurial rise of passionate scribe and theologian Martin Luther makes for flagrantly melodramatic cinema.

A convincing performance by Joseph Fiennes rescues “Luther” from TV-movie biopic exile.  The man who answers solely to God is entrenched in controversy from the get-go.  Determined to bind himself to Christ, the former law student is driven by his beliefs to bury himself in scripture, feeding his faith with a zealous fervor.  But Luther’s faith is malleable --- he’s cognizant of its ambiguity and questions the Church’s authority with every fiber of his being.

Longing to save Christendom, Luther pilgrimages to Rome, where he discovers unsettling evidence of religious values gone awry. Citizens are reduced to partaking in “indulgences” or buying salvation for a fee, sparking Luther’s outrage.  “Is not salvation accessible to all?” he muses.  Believing himself immune to Roman Law, Luther attacks this blatant manipulation by taking his reformist word to the streets and penning the controversial 95 Theses, allegedly containing heresy against the Church.

Luther is forced to recant his heretical writings or face excommunication. His loyal disciples break their ties with Rome and the social, political and religious stranglehold it retains on the European nation. Confrontation is inevitable, and it’s not pretty.

“Luther” crams a lot of religious history into two hours worth of screen time. As the architect of Reformation, Fiennes (complete with an emasculating Julius Caesar cut) proffers full-bore anguish and torment while denouncing Papal abuse, never wavering from his noble fury.

Celestial joys are heavily outweighed by Roman Catholic betrayal and the hellfire and damnation associated with 16th century divine histrionics. “Luther” is dark, moody, and pregnant with emotional fervor.