Luther

Corny and irritatingly simplistic though this fast-paced biography of 16th-century German religious reformer Martin Luther may be, it's undeniably entertaining. Making good on his promise to give himself to God after a terrifying lightening storm, Martin Luther (Joseph Fiennes) abandons his law career to join the Augustinian monks in Erfurt. He makes an...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Corny and irritatingly simplistic though this fast-paced biography of 16th-century German religious reformer Martin Luther may be, it's undeniably entertaining. Making good on his promise to give himself to God after a terrifying lightening storm, Martin Luther (Joseph Fiennes) abandons his law career to join the Augustinian monks in Erfurt. He makes an inauspicious start as a Catholic priest — filled with self-loathing and doubtful of God's mercy, Luther fumbles his way through his very first mass — but has an eye-opening experience when his spiritual father (Bruno Ganz) sends him to Rome. Luther is appalled by what he sees: priests consorting with prostitutes, images of saints sold as cheap trinkets, holy relics of questionable authenticity and — worst of all — the wholesale peddling of indulgences, "get out of purgatory" certificates poor sinners are told have the power to release their loved ones. After receiving a doctorate of theology from the university in Wittenberg, Luther, now a popular speaker with an influential following, becomes increasingly outspoken in his condemnation of indulgences; in 1517, he famously nails his "95 Theses" attacking such abuses to the door a Wittenberg church. Luther's bold challenge to papal authority and his demand for reform soon attracts the angry attention of Pope Leo X (Uwe Ochsenknecht), who, needing funds to complete the lavish new basilica at St. Peter's, depends on the lucre raised by such fire-and-brimstone salvation mongers as Brother John Tetzel (Alfred Molina). Accused of heresy and threatened with excommunication, Luther is summoned to appear before Emperor Charles V (Torben Liebrecht) at Worms, where he boldly refuses to recant his increasingly influential writings. Protected by Prince Frederick of Saxony (Peter Ustinov), Luther goes into hiding and embarks upon producing the thing Rome fears most — a German translation of the New Testament that ordinary people can read — and inadvertently inspires a social revolution that culminates in unspeakable tragedy. Joseph Fiennes's swarthy good-looks and trademark smolder are far more appropriate to SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (1998) than a feature film about Martin Luther, but this is Luther as charismatic crusader, a sexy rebel who defied convention and married a feisty runaway nun (Claire Cox). Unfortunately, this isn't Luther as a complex and problematic real-life historical figure whose failings — like his unambiguous hatred of Judaism or his deep distrust of the peasantry who originally hailed him as their liberator — also had a profound influence on Germany's future. That would have been interesting.

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  • Released: 2003
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: Corny and irritatingly simplistic though this fast-paced biography of 16th-century German religious reformer Martin Luther may be, it's undeniably entertaining. Making good on his promise to give himself to God after a terrifying lightening storm, Martin L… (more)

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