Netflix's Luther: The Fallen Sun Review: Andy Serkis' Unhinged Performance Elevates An Unfortunately Hyperpaced Thriller

Idris Elba returns as DCI John Luther.

Idris Elba in Luther: The Fallen Sun
(Image: © Netflix)

To be perfectly frank and upfront, I am not the number one target audience for Jamie Payne’s Luther: The Fallen Sun. Over the years, friends and colleagues have recommended the BBC series on which the new film is based, understanding my appreciation for both detective fiction and the work of Idris Elba, but I haven’t had the opportunity to watch the show myself (in my defense, there’s a whole lot of great stuff out there). As such, I can’t speak to how the movie advances previously engaged themes, develops established characters, or compares to the storytelling with which fans are familiar. But viewed independently of what came before, I can call it at least good enough to pique a bit more interest in the series than I previously had, though I would hope that the serial storytelling would have a bit more to offer than what’s delivered in feature form. 

Luther: The Fallen Sun

Andy Serkis in Luther: The Fallen Sun

(Image credit: Netflix)

Release Date: February 24, 2023 (Theaters), March 10, 2023 (Netflix) 
Directed By: Jamie Payne
Written By: Neil Cross
Starring: Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Cynthia Erivo, and Dermot Crowley
Rating: R (disturbing/violent content, language and some sexual material)

The Netflix original features a good number of exciting, well-executed sequences, and Andy Serkis is given fun latitude to play an unapologetically hyper-evil sadist, but the narrative is far too tight for the movie’s own good. One gets the sense that it was originally developed for a full season of the original show, but that reduced runtime real estate forced a crunching of all the major plot points to fit inside two hours. Everything is rushed to the point of feeling unreal, which takes away from the thrill of detective-centric storytelling as characters work through clues to find answers to the central mystery.

Written by Luther creator Neil Cross, the film centers around Serkis’ David Robey – a psychotic individual who orchestrates a massive blackmail ring. When DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) begins investigating the disappearance of one of Robey’s victims, Robey’s people do some digging and successfully have him thrown in prison for misconduct committed as a police officer. Being law enforcement surrounded by convicted criminals, Luther’s life is rough behind bars, and it’s made only harder by taunts that Robey sends him.

Unable to move on, Luther orchestrates a prison break so that he can work the streets searching for the villain. As the disgraced detective hunts for his target, he himself is hunted by the police, with DCI Odette Raine (Cynthia Erivo) coordinating with Martin Schenk (Dermot Crowley), Luther’s retired former boss.

Luther: The Fallen Sun hits its big plot beats so quickly that it undermines the mystery.

It’s a pretty crazy thing to see a movie have its protagonist start solving a crime, get thrown in prison, and escape prison all in the first act – but, for what it’s worth it does turn out to be a set pace that the film works with until the end credits roll. Unfortunately, it does the story and its characters a disservice. Part of the fun of a cat-and-mouse game between played between cinematic cops and criminals is witnessing the process the former uses to capture the latter and the craft the latter uses to escape the former, but Luther: The Fallen Sun doesn’t provide the audience with any time to savor the titular hero’s skills as an investigator or the slyness of the villain.

Almost immediately after his jail break, Luther is able to find the source of a transmission that was broadcasting David Robey’s taunts to a radio in his cell, and just as it seems like a big hunt is on, the two principal characters are meeting face-to-face. Without giving too much away, Robey manages to escape this encounter, and it seems like the big hunt is on again… but then Luther almost immediately figures out who he is and starts closing in again. The film has no time for twists or red herrings to spice things up and put the audience on seat’s edge; the investigation is a long stretch of straight road that just has a few speedbumps.

There’s not a lot of depth in Andy Serkis’ performance, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

It may not be much of a mystery, but Luther: The Fallen Sun is certainly watchable, and it’s mostly because of the work put in by Andy Serkis. The character is ludicrous – from his ridiculous swath of blond hair to his act as a gleeful P.T. Barnum of cruelty – but Serkis is clearly loving every minute of the performance, and it’s infectious for the audience. If David Robey had a mustache, he would be twirling it constantly, and I would admittedly appreciate the performance all the more for it. His monstrous over-the-top-ness invites you to take the whole thing less seriously, which, given its weird plot problems, is alleviation that the film needs.

Luther: The Fallen Sun doesn’t really aim at being a horror movie, but its big set pieces make an argument that it is one anyway.

Further to David Robey’s credit, he’s a villain who most definitely isn’t all bluster and talk, as his actions and orchestrations are deeply messed up – and any horror fans watching will applaud the disturbing work done by Jamie Payne and Neil Cross in Luther: The Fallen Sun. From burning hung corpses, to a mass suicide, to child abduction, to audio recordings of torture, the movie goes to some dark and chilling places that will shock any audience. This shock value does have some artificiality because of the rigidness of the plot, and there isn’t a whole lot of originality involved, but it’s impossible to argue that it’s not effective in making one’s eyeballs pop and inspiring one to at least mutter (if not shout) “What the fuck?!”

Luther: The Fallen Sun hasn’t inspired me to instantly start diving into Luther and learn how the film fits with the long-running series, but the title will at least remain on my streaming watch list, and I can’t say I feel dissuaded from checking it out. I’ll eventually cross it off the list – but for now, my bigger priority is hoping that Andy Serkis will take on more unhinged roles such as this in the future.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.