On a rare occasion, a film will be mentioned that I’m certain I’ve watched but can remember nearly nothing about. It will never be a terrible film so to speak. Usually in fact, it is entirely average. A film built on such weak foundations that it is totally unable to take up any permanent space in my brain.
Luther: The Fallen Sun is a prime example of a film that will surely slip into a region of total narrative amnesia for me in the coming months. Again, it’s not that this Luther adaptation is unwatchable- far from it. But it’s almost more insulting that the film is merely mediocre.
Following up the acutely popular BBC series of the same name, the announcement of a Netflix film coming in 2023 oozed with tentative potential. Despite being a detective in the Metropolitan Police Service, DCI John Luther is not exactly renowned for catching criminals by the book, which often lands him in trouble with his superiors.
One thing I can’t deny is how heartening it is to see Idris Elba back in his trench coat and tie as the complicated, work-obsessed detective with enough personal demons to fill a Boeing 747. But Luther’s charm is simply not enough to cordon us off from the gaping lack of effort put into the storyline itself.
The show’s writers have always faithfully observed the age old cat-and-mouse format of detective fiction. This typically shifts into a double-cat-and-mouse-chase as Luther simultaneously evades punishment for his own unorthodox detective methods. This time being pursued after a full-on prison break instead of just the general wishy washy criminal accusations he’s become accustomed to, the hunt seems a tad more consequential but quickly loses its intrigue in the depressingly formulaic manner of its execution.
This time the killer Luther’s tracking is the award winning Andy Serkis as the sadistic blackmailer David Robey. Serkis plays a fantastic slime ball that keeps your skin prickled with disgust, and with a little more screen time could’ve certainly achieved the status of being at least a somewhat memorable villain. However it quickly becomes clear that without Serkis’s acting the character would be painfully flat, with little to flesh him out other than a general attraction towards chaos.
By blackmailing the public into committing crimes though, Serkis becomes representational of an idea far more terrifying than his on-screen character is able to embody; this being the power shame has over each of us. It forces the viewer to reflect on their own lives through the lens of Robey’s many victims. What would you rather die than your mum find out about you? What in your search history would you kill somebody to stop from getting out? These are gruesome questions to unpick, and there are a few nice moments in the film where they begin to explore the self-destructive nature of shame. But without a villain with strong motives driving these ideas home, I came out feeling more like this was a by-product of the character rather than the intent.
Many of the cast follow this same pattern of embodying the stereotype of a particular crime-fiction role, but without any complexity to freshen up the formula. Hattie Morahan plays the mother of one of Robey’s kidnapped victims in a spectacularly irritating variation of the mourning mum role. At one point she makes a snide point of saying Luther ‘clearly had better things to do than find her son’. I’m not quite sure how Luther being arrested translates into him intentionally shirking his duties, and it’s certainly a very bold decision on the writers’ behalf to have her insinuate his time in prison was actually just one big lads holiday.
Post-watch felt like I had skirted the edges of a plotline that the crew had simply forgotten to fill up properly- a familiar template with money pumped into it rather than care. Instead of watching the film, I had keenly observed the writing, intimately feeling the lack of care that was put into it. My issue with Luther: The Fallen Sun can be summed up very succinctly: it didn’t do anything new. The saying may go that ‘if it ain’t broken don’t fix it’, but more originality is required when recycling archetypal narratives if you want to do more than keep an audience marginally entertained.