(BBC) Like many, you may have felt that Idris Elba’s turn as the sardonic, sad-eyed captain of the Prometheus was one of the film’s best elements – and one of this summer's best performances so far. That’s saying something, when a quiet, moody character like Captain Janek can stand out so prominently in a film filled with incredible visual spectacle and nail-biting tension. Elba is a magnetic screen presence, and his starring role as Detective John Luther in the BBC’s Luther is proof.
John Luther is a complicated and challenging character. He’s a hardened police officer: cynical, brilliant, and lonely. The first episode begins with the literal question, “Who is John Luther?” and the rest of the series attempt to answer it. Before we see Luther in action, we see him sitting on a couch, playing Russian Roulette, tempting fate and toying with his life like it’s so much garbage. He’s clearly a man who lives on the edge of what’s tolerable — seeing the worst of human nature and trying to reconcile it with his own morality.
Luther is cool and stylish, setting up situations of intrigue and violence with brutal efficiency. Luther moves through it all with an air of exhausted stoicism — a dilapidated hero who may have ceded too much of himself to the darkness that surrounds him. He joins the long tradition of jaded detectives that we've come to love in television crime dramas.
Series creator Neil Cross is a Booker-Prize-nominated novelist who has written for Doctor Who, Spooks, and The Fixer. He describes John Luther as a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Columbo, citing the show’s inverted format — in which the perpetrator of the crime is often revealed at the beginning of an episode — as an homage to the latter.
Elba has worked all over the entertainment map: he was Stringer Bell on The Wire and Charles Miner on The Office; he was in Thor, 28 Weeks Later, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, American Gangster, Absolutely Fabulous, Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. He's also released three EPs under his DJ name Big Driis. He's won multiple awards, and has used his fame to become an advocate for black actors in Hollywood, saying in 2011, "Imagine a film such as Inception with an entire cast of black people – do you think it would be successful? Would people watch it? But no one questions the fact that everyone's white. That's what we have to change.”
He's slated to appear in Thor 2 and Guillermo del Toro's highly anticipated monster film Pacific Rim, so we can look forward to much more of his slow-burn charisma in fantastic settings over the next couple of years. Luther, on the other hand, is deadly realistic, using Elba's talents to portray a man with a highly-charged mind that can be as dangerous as the unscrupulous people he hunts. If you want to study and enjoy Elba's intense, laconic style, then this is the place to look.
Foe Fans Of: Sherlock, The Wire, The Last Enemy, Columbo
Why We Like It: a brooding and intense hero, tightly plotted crime stories, an uneasy atmosphere of the unpredictable