Thursday, September 23, 2010

NYTVF ’10: Luther

Before donning the mantle as the new Alex Cross, the detective-profiler thus far more famous for the bestselling books and absolutely dreadful vanity commercials from author James Patterson than the Morgan Freeman films, Idris Elba will be fighting crime on BBC America. His DCI John Luther definitely follows in the tradition of edgier, wounded cops, to judge from the first episode of Luther (trailer here), which screened last night as part of the 2010 New York Television Festival.

The driven Luther used to be good at his job. In his last big case, he saved a young girl’s life by “encouraging” serial pedophile-abductor Henry Madsen to reveal her location. However, when Luther’s actions put Madsen in a coma, he nearly cracks during the ensuing scandal. Frankly, Luther is haunted by the incident because he does not have murder in his heart. Alice Morgan is a different story.

In his first case back, Luther investigates the brutal murder of Morgan’s parents. A former child prodigy astro-physicist, her glaring lack of empathy immediately attracts his suspicion. Their verbal sparring quickly evolves into a game of catch-me-if-you-can that will obviously form the meta-story of Luther’s limited series run. Things have already gotten personal in episode one, complicating Luther’s attempts to reconcile with his wife Zoe, a “human rights lawyer,” whatever that is supposed to mean.

Episode one establishes the cat-and-mouse dynamic rather effectively, in large measure thanks to its leads. Elba is perfectly cast as the hyper-tense Luther and Ruth Wilson already appears to have Morgan’s manipulative ice queen persona nailed. Unfortunately, Indira Varma will obviously be all kinds of annoying as Zoe Luther.

Clearly, Associate Producer Elba really will be what drives Luther. He has screen presence that even shines through in an unintentionally funny b-caper movie like Takers. In fact, one Midwestern critic noted the whoops and hollers that greeted a scene of Elba in his boxers during his combo press-promotional screening. The same reaction occurred a similar New York screening. That is definitely a kind of star power.

To judge by episode one, Elba and Wilson really are quite good in Luther. Crime novelist and British television veteran (MI-5) Neil Cross’s writing also already has a promising sharpness that should appeal to fans of other UK psychological crime dramas, like Wire in the Blood. Luther premieres on BBC America Sunday, October 17th, while the NYTVF continues through Saturday (9/25) with pilot competition screenings at the Tribeca Cinemas and primetime events at the SVA Theater.