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Idris Elba is the magnetic star of the thrilling BBC police series Luther, a gritty, captivating drama that will impress fans of British TV, police procedurals, and knotty character studies. Elba (The Wire, The Big C, The Office, 28 Days Later) is a nuanced, tortured presence as DCI John Luther, a detective focused on understanding the most horrifying criminal mind. Luther also has sacrificed a normal personal life for his work, and Luther focuses on his back-story as much as on the plot at hand. The supporting cast is as brilliant as Elba, especially Indira Varma as his estranged wife, Zoe, and Ruth Wilson as the fragile-seeming but only marginally sane Alice, with whom Luther has been having a secret affair. The episodes are fairly straightforward police procedurals, including serial killers and other creepy bad guys. But what keeps Luther extra engaging is the superior writing, direction, and production design--making watching Luther an immersive experience for the viewer. And it's not always a comfortable one--this is not the cleaned-up New York of Law & Order, where most bad things happen off screen. Luther's bad guys (and gals) commit their evil deeds on camera and sometimes in slow motion--which only heightens the suspense and deep feeling of immersion. Luther and its focus on its leading character's personal life owes a lot to Helen Mirren's Prime Suspect, but Elba and the supporting cast of Luther do even more to make the viewer feel a part of the imperfect British law-enforcement system. The boxed set includes an excellent documentary with interviews with series creator Neil Cross and the directors and cast members discussing how they deliberately designed the series to be more "impressionistic" than "realistic" in terms of plot. (The interviews would have more impact if they weren't streamed onto a computer screen, but that's a small quibble.) Catch Luther while he tries to catch the bad blokes, and enjoy every twisted step of the journey.

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WAE169523 Luther Season 1 DVD (2010/Idris Elba) $34.99 $28.99