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186 of 193 people found the following review helpful
There have been a lot of movies recently about God (Bruce Almighty) and faith (Dancing at Lughnasa), but many of them have avoided mentioning one word: Christ. Luther breaks that trend by addressing the foundation figure of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. This film unabashedly presents the man as both a fallible human being, with crushing fits of self-doubt, and a man in constant pursuit of the mind of God, a man who changed the face of Europe.
Luther was and is an ambiguous figure to many, and this movie doesn't try to simplify anything. We see Luther (Joseph Fiennes) in the most productive and tumultuous years of his life, with the movie ending abruptly after the Augsburg Confession. The character of Luther's sponsor, Philip the Wise (Sir Peter Ustinov), is cut down, making him a friendly figure where he was in fact a shrewd politician who tried to use Luther's opinions as a way to enrich state coffers. The figure of Karlstadt (Jochen Horst) is real and receives comment, but the film doesn't really permit Luther to endorse or condemn his rebellion. Luther's wife and sometime foil, the sharp and witty Katerina von Borg (Claire Cox), doesn't even appear until near the end of the film. And Johann Tetzel (Alfred Molina), whose abuses spurred Luther's greatest accomplishments, is treated like a straw man.
This movie seems structured at times like a Cliffs Notes of Luther's life and work. Perhaps it's intended to encourage the viewing public to read the books themselves and find out who Luther was. It's certainly not a technical tour-de-force. The opening is cut together with the same abruptness as a trailer, Luther's conversions (he had three, each more profound than the last, like stairsteps) are compressed, the camera is usually unmoving, like a portable stage.
But the movie is strong, accurately reflecting who Luther was and what he did. Running just under two hours and allowing plenty of room for the circumstances of Luther's day, it's easy to watch. The environment, including land and cityscapes, are well rendered, the light and sound are clear, and the colors pop.
Plainly, this isn't a general-interest film. People who watch it are at least curious about Luther's work, if not already familiar with it. But for a theological art-house movie, it's a cut above most of what's been made in recent years, and eminently watchable. Highly recommended.
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141 of 147 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon November 22, 2004
I entered the theatre fearing the worst. I saw little reason to expect that a movie being distributed in the mainstream markets would be able to do justice to a character so reviled as Martin Luther. While he is a hero to many, to far more he is a villain - sectarian, racist, arrogant and divisive; a man who tore the Christian world apart and whose legacy remains to this day. I am happy to say that my fears were unfounded. Luther represents the man fairly, portraying him as a reluctant hero and one who, though plagued with doubts about his own abilities, was able to stand firm in the face of fearsome opposition.

The scope of the movie is impressive. It begins in 1505 with a young Luther running and crawling through a field, trying desperately to escape a fierce storm, all the while crying out to Saint Anne to save him. It ends twenty five years later, again with Luther in a field, though this time has is rejoicing, for he has just received the news that Emperor Charles V has given in to the German princes and has allowed Protestantism to survive. The movie ends at the beginning of religious tolerance in Germany.

The initial pace of the move is frantic. We see Luther giving his life to the service of the church and then nervously performing his first mass. We see him wrestling with his sinfulness and with his perception of an angry, vengeful God. He is assigned a task which takes him to Rome and there his disillusionment with the church grows as he sees brothels for priests and finds that the papacy is little more than a money-making institution. The poorest people in society give the little they have to the church to ransom their loved ones from purgatory. At this point the movie begins to slow its pace. After Luther returns home his Father Superior sends him to Wittenberg to study the Bible and it is there that he begins to realize that relics have no value and that indulgences have no Biblical support. He begins to form the theology that would eventually tear him away from the Catholic Church.

From this point on we see him fighting with the church and with his own desire to be an obedient son of the church, but even more to be obedient to the Scriptures which have bound his conscience. Following the Diet of Worms, his popularity explodes among the peasantry. When Luther is whisked away to a safe place by Frederick of Saxony, the Peasant Wars begin and Luther, while first supporting them, soon turns against them. He makes his translation of the Bible in German and eventually meets and marries his wife. The film ends with the meeting at Augsburg where the Princes of Germany reject the papacy and commit to dying rather than submitting again to Roman rule.

While the movie's scope is one of its strengths, it also introduces a weakness. It is difficult to do justice to twenty five years that are so significant and so filled with tumultuous events in a mere two hours. Through the film we see most of Luther's most famous moments - the storm that drove him to commit his life to the church, his stand before the Diet of Worms and his constant wrestling with Satan and with himself. Of course we are introduced to Johan Tetzel and his consciousless hawking of indulgences and hear Luther's biting response. However, several significant events are left out. Strangely, we do not see one of his most well-known incidents where, in deep torment, he threw an ink bottle at Satan. The ink stain remains to this day and is quite a popular tourist attraction.

Perhaps the greatest weakness in the movie is that we see very little of Luther's theology. This is a strange oversight as Luther was primarily a theologian. We never see him wrestling with Romans and only ever hear one vague presentation of the gospel. No one utters the word "justification." Similarly, while we hear one of his hymns in the background, we are never introduced to Luther as musician and songwriter. After watching this movie, one would assume that Luther's stance against Rome was based almost entirely on indulgences. This is much like saying that the U.S. Civil War was fought only over the issue of slavery - it greatly oversimplifies a complex matter. While indulgences were surely a significant factor, there were other important ones that played a critical role. So while the producers did justice to one area, they neglected to give due time to others. Time constraints would have been the determining factor in this, I am sure.

The acting, directing and cinematography are solid throughout the movie and do a great job of transporting the viewer to the sixteenth century. Joseph Fiennes with his Shakespearean training was a great choice to play Luther and does a very good job of showing the emotional torment Luther faced. While the other actors also perform their parts well, I would like to make special mention of Peter Ustinov who portrays Frederick of Saxony. It was wonderful to see his growing concern and admiration for Luther and his disappointment in learning that his massive collection of relics was little more than an idolatrous pursuit. One of the movie's best moments was seeing his disgust at this collection of useless trinkets. What once was his pride and joy now brought him shame.

The end analysis is that Luther is a good movie and one I highly recommend. I was disappointed that the movie spent little time exploring Luther's theology, but admittedly theology may not make for interesting movies. However, the movie's many strengths by far outweigh its weaknesses. We see a man who was in every way human. He fought with Satan, with God, with his church and with himself, but through it all allowed the Scriptures to guide him and set in motion what would soon become the Protestant faith that we so love. All believers owe Luther a debt of gratitude. I walked out of the movie thanking God for raising up such a man rather than allowing us to continue to flounder in spiritual darkness.
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210 of 230 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 31, 2004
I have seen many Luther films over the years. They make him into a superhero. In many senses Luther was a superhero but he didn't set out to be one. What I like about this movie is it brings in other aspects such as the Peasant Revolution and the ensuing slaughter. This is avoided in other movies about Luther. Such topics are risky fare for those hoping to make Martin Luther perfect. After all, Luther's greatest supporters were directly connected to the carnage. The movie makes Luther human for once and this movie isn't one of those boring theological dissertations. Sir Peter Ustinov turns out a magnificent performance as Duke Frederick in this, his final film before his death. I saw this 3 times in the movies and would have seen it more had the movie remained in local theaters longer.
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340 of 383 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2004
I saw this film in theaters last year and was awed by it.

First of all, the film is not anti-Catholic as some critics have said. It was made in Germany with the cooperation of the Catholic and Lutheran churches there. It is fact based and tells the truth about what happened. It may portray them in a bad light, but calling the film anti-Catholic would be like calling a film about the Holocaust anti-German.

This film shows the brutality of the Spanish inquisition and their notoriously anti-Prosestant attacks. Another early Protestant, William Tyndale, was executed for heresy. His 'crime' was translating the Bible into English. Though the Catholic Church did do these things, they have apologized for it.

The film has stunning performances by Joseph Finnes (Ralph Finnes' brother)and Peter Ustinov in his last film role before his death.

On October 31, 1517 A.D. the door of the Wittenberg church had Luther's 95 theses nailed on it, and with that the door to religious freedom was opened. This film should be seen even by secular people because if it were not for Luther, there may have been no seperation of Church and state until many years later.

The film is an absolute must-see for those interested in the Protestant Reformation.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
As religious biographies set to film go, "Luther" is among the best. Few serious directors have taken on the topic of Christian history since "The Ten Commandments." I left the theater better informed about Martin Luther and the Reformation.

Although important parts of Luther's life, positions and views are glazed over or ignored, it serves to incite curiosity about his 95 Theses and the Augsburg Confession.

The difficulty with a film portrayal of one of Christian history's more influential figures is that the historical Martin Luther could not be captured into a couple of hours. It is just a movie, and is not supposed to address complex eternal questions.

Protestant Christians will bristle at the brief look at Luther's theology, and the emphasis on the politics. What else could a filmmaker do? Already, such a film was destined for a short life in the theaters, and the fact is true: much of the issues surrounding Luther stemmed from his reaction to politics.

Roman Catholics might be upset by the anti-Catholic slant. I do not think the film was meant to put Catholicism in a bad light as much as it was meant to show what events and concerns caused Luther to react. The movie was aptly titled "Luther" and not "The Beginning of the Reformation" or "The Great Religious Revolt."

Indulgences have never been one of Catholicism's honorable or defensible provisions. There is no telling of Luther's story without examining the abuses of men looking to profit from the fear and guilt of illiterate believers. A modern Catholic will rightly note that personal Scripture among the laity is now encouraged by Rome, and be frustrated as he acknowledges indulgences are still part of the present Catholic theology.

Lutherans will find the movie intriguing, realizing Luther's battle against Rome begot their own denomination. Coming back to the origin of the Lutheran faith will be exciting and educational.

Joseph Fiennes is believable, albeit a little wooden. His Luther will remind viewers of Jeremy Irons' character in "The Mission." He is noble, calm and steadfast. Like Irons' priest, Luther faces great adversity through his desire to follow Jesus Christ.

Luther comes across as a noble would-be martyr. He shows godly courage, and a few levels of depth. What is not shown are his own imperfections and inconsistencies.

When Luther writhes in angst against temptation and evil, he speaks angrily to Satan as would anyone to his most cursed enemy. Like C. S. Lewis' Wormwood in "The Screwtape Letters," we can taste the insidious, pervasive nature of Satan. The spiritual conflict endured by Luther is not the glamorized head-spinning of "The Exorcist," but shows that he was not merely fighting flesh and blood entities through academic arguments.

My recommendation of "Luther" is 100%. Sunday school, CCD and high school groups could watch it as fodder for discussion. This isn't for the "Adventures In Odyssey" or "Veggie Tales" crowd.

A solid companion to the movie is "Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther" by Roland Herbert Bainton. It is an excellent addition to church video libraries.

Anthony Trendl
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51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2005
On the positive side, this film tells a straightforward story about Luther's ideas and the issues those ideas raised for 16th Century European political affairs. It amply displays his belief in the importance of scripture and the "priesthood of all believers," and by implication it shows his idea that salvation should be achieved by faith alone. It hits the major events from his epiphany in the thunderstorm up through the onset of the peasant's revolt and the challenge of the German princes to the rule of Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire. As such, it nicely combines both religious and political issues that couldn't be separated during Luther's time either (in other words, it does not simply focus on Luther himself or on religious beliefs).

I didn't find the film to be overly anti-Catholic, although the nature of the subject matter could give that impression.

At the same time, the film is rather bland, and perhaps it could have benefitted from some perspective or other emphasis.

It also could have gone further in showing the implications of Luther's Reformation; it seems to just stop once the Emperor realizes he's going to have trouble from the German princes, without discussing or even mentioning the ensuing religious and political crises that rocked Europe through the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648, when statecraft and national interest finally became a more consistent influence than religion in determining the course of European political development.

Further, the film does not explore WHY or HOW Luther became so profoundly changed, nor does it adequately explain why the German princes might have embraced Luther's ideas in their own political fight against the Holy Roman Emperor. Luther's character seems to waver between tormented soul and self-confident professor; the film doesn't explain these dramatic swings, and it feels as if we never quite get to know who Luther was. He is portrayed by Joseph Fiennes as displaying a significant amount of doubt, which both contributes to this feeling of inconsistency as well as shows the internal as well as external struggle Luther must have undergone in fighting for his beliefs (which surely he felt to be not so much his beliefs but the only true belief). In that way, this film does try to understand and portray Luther as more than a cardboard character, as a real person and not a historical icon; his performance suggests, as all good history should, that people are full of contradictory impulses, and that events could have turned out differently than they did.

The film, therefore, shows a human, rather than a religious, character, and it leaves much to the viewer to decide about Luther; it's not religious propaganda, even though it is sympathetic to Luther. A rather sappy subplot about a crippled child is used in the film to exhibit Luther's compassion, but I wonder if it is a transparent attempt to draw in viewers, or if Luther was known to exhibit such personal interest.

In some ways, the PBS Empires documentary Martin Luther packs more emotional and intellectual punch, and is often more powerfully directed and filmed than this feature film; those looking for a deeper, more incisive account which still includes a dramatic visual and emotional component should look there, too.

The special features on this DVD are minimal (cast interviews) and mostly irrelevant to the types of religious and historical questions that the film raises (so in that sense, the special features are no different than most DVDs).

This film is easily accessible to a teenage audience.

Despite the drawbacks, the film is a welcome replacement for various older accounts that collect dust on school shelves due to their slow storytelling or antiquated sensibility; this film is bright, lively, and visually compelling. On the whole, its simplicity makes it great for those interested in learning about or seeing a dramatization of the major events of Luther's Reformation.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 5, 2004
Makers of this film tried to be historically accurate. It covered Luther's life and times from when he gives his vow to Saint Anne to turn his life over to God and joins the Augustines to when the German princes stand up to Emperor Charles. I have read a couple of biographies of Luther and the movie related the main facts of Luther's life well. The movie also showed the evil of indulgences and the abuses of the Catholic church at the time in history. For these reasons alone, I think the movie should be viewed. To understand the times we live in, we must understand the Reformation.

However, the movie misses somehow. I am not sure where. The passage of time is confusing. Characters make references to the passage of time, so you know that several years go by, but you are never sure how many years. They usually show it by different lengths of hair of the main characters. The movie misses on an emotional level sometimes, but it does score some direct hits. I think Fiennes is miscast as Luther, but he tries hard. Ustinov is very charming as Prince Frederick. King Charles is not very convincing.

I strongly recommend the movie just for the earnest treatment of the subject matter. There is much of Luther's life this movie doesn't cover, but it does a good job of showing what sparked the Reformation.

The special features contains interviews with the cast. It also has subtitles available in Spanish.
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45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2004
My wife and I traveled out of town to a theatre that was showing this feature mid week. We fully expected to be in a half empty theatre and arrived 20 minutes early since we had to locate the theatre. The movie had been showing for a couple of weeks when we decided to go. Were we surprised when the 5 or 6 other patrons expanded to a completely sold out performance. Afterwards when the feature was finished over half the audience stood for a standing ovation... odd because there were no live performers. I can only remember maybe one other movie I have attended in my 52 years where this happened.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2004
I'm an American living in Germany and I had such a great experience seeing this movie! Just two days prior I visited Wittenberg, the former East Germany, where Martin Luther lived and where this movie is set. The old Castle Church where Luther nailed the 95 Theses has a large enscription around the tower toward the top that says: Ein Feste Burg ist unsere Gott... A Mighty Fortress is our God!
Well the movie was a huge success here in Germany, making it to most Top 5 lists for 2003! It's a pity that it wasn't so widely distributed in the US.
The film moved me to tears at least 7 times. Luther is portrayed as very human and very compassionate. You see the depth of his friendships as his friends so willingly support him and ever come to his aid. The gospel of grace is clearly portrayed and seen in the lives of the people. The scenery is beautifully crafted and filmed and is very believable. It's beauty is an attraction of the film on its own. Joseph Fiennes plays a younger looking Luther than most statues portray him, but he engages your emotions with Luther. You totally understand how his journey to find peace in his soul led him not only to exposing the failings of the Catholic Church (I was once Catholic too) but a passion to free people's consciences with the truth of Christ's complete forgiveness for sins. It is finished! You see this combination of passion and gentleness in him that can only come from his Lord. I hope you get to see the Film. I understand it'll be re-released in US theatres in the Spring 2004 then on DVD in early summer. See It!!!
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
LUTHER succeeds on many levels: the historical data is solid, the settings in Germany and Rome in the early 16th century are meticulously recreated, the script is superb, and the acting is uniformly excellent. Clocking in at just over two hours, LUTHER offers a biography of one of the important periods in history - that of the forming of the Reformation.

The story is so well known that it does not bear repeating. Suffice it to say that the external and internal demons that propelled Martin Luther to break away from the Roman Catholic Church with all its inherent odious evils present at that time during the reign of Pope Leo are presented in an understandable, dramatic way. Joseph Fiennes as Luther gives an exemplary performance as do the other fine actors cast in this film - Bruno Ganz, Claire Cox, Jonathan Firth, Benjamin Sadler, Marco Hofschneider (remember 'Europa, Europa'? - he is grown up now), and Mattieu Carriere, among others. But one of the finest roles in this film is Frederick the Wise as portrayed in the last hurrah of Sir Peter Ustinov. This is an award winning performance.

The accompanying featurettes of actors discussing the film and the story are quite good - especially Ustinov's cogent evaluation of Fiennes as an actor, the credibility of the sets and costumes, etc. Yes, there are errors of omission (Luther was far more than a revolutionary), but the overall feeling after the final scene in LUTHER is one of having witnessed a solid flashback to a moving historical incident. Well worth viewing and re-viewing.

Grady Harp
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