Luther Review: Good Cop Bad Cop

May 4, 2010 by  
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LUTHER: Tuesday 4th May, BBC1, 9pm ALERT ME

With an excellent cast and evidently large budget at its disposal, Luther manages to create a compelling and interesting take on the police drama format. This isn’t your average copper with foibles show – John Luther, played by The Wire’s Idris Elba – has some serious mental issues that bleed into both his personal relationships and police work.

From the outset, we are catapulted into the action and John’s stressful, high octane life. Having chased a suspect, Luther catches up with him as he dangles desperately above a treacherous fall. This policeman isn’t one for sympathy and occupational morals, so he lets him sway for a bit longer. He hasn’t extracted all the information he needs, and as this unconventional cop stutters and shouts – we are given a swift introduction to his mental state. The man plunges to the floor.

It is the controversial episode with this particular suspect that forms one of the key strands of the plot and eventually manifests itself as a troubling issue applying constant pressure to an unbalanced detective throughout the series. It will clearly also be used by the manipulative and terrifying Alice.

Alice (Ruth Wilson, recently of The Prisoner) reveals herself as an eminent character in Luther – a child prodigy turned psychotic sexy lady who seeks to undermine Luther at every turn. After the murder of her parents turns out to be her – the episode unravels as a constant battle of wits with John trying to prove her guilt, whilst attempting to keep his personal relationships intact.

The underlying tension created by Luther’s volatility is undoubtedly a unique point of interest. This isn’t an inspector who drives too fast, or bends the rules of policing. This is a man with real mental issues, which have possibly similar impacts as the scarily clever Alice he is chasing.

Alice is indeed a worthy foil, and the psychological warfare is compelling. But Luther’s behaviour is sometimes smeared on thicker than lard. The acting and subtleties of Luther are enough to portray his intrigue; we don’t need the constant references in the script. He resembles The Incredible Hulk with the aura people create by constantly discussing him, backed up by his reaction to his wife cheating on him – which is not unlike something from the Marvel film.

Luther is ambitious and doesn’t flinch from displaying violence and gore. Its characters, especially John Luther, have a realism and recognition that other dramas do not share. Sporadically, enhanced by the music, the programme appears cinematic and as an innovative police drama it is mostly successful.

However, in its attempt to be fast-moving and addictive, Luther sometimes does not develop its characters fully. Additionally, in an attempt to drive home its key selling point – the script sometimes ruins the ‘he’s mental’ aspect of the drama. Despite these insecurities, we have a fascinating series that is sure to flourish and grip throughout.