Death Note is a live action adaptation of a Japanese manga and anime series of the same name, which sees American teenager Light, fall in possession of a Death note, a book with powers to kill anyone whose name is written down in it, leading Light on an intriguing path, the film stars Nat Wolf, Lakeith Stanfield, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley and Shea Wigham.
Ah Death Note, it’s an… interesting one, very divisive to say the least and an abomination to say the most (to most fans of the anime anyway), it’s one of two Western adaptation of anime this year – the other being Ghost In The Shell and I think it’s fair to say both have been flops but Death Note has received far more heavy criticism I feel. And there are reasons for this but I actually don’t agree the film is absolute garbage and one of the worst films of the year, it’s a bit misguided and falls short of being a good adaptation.
The production value is there, with this being a Netflix film and some decent actors are present, Nat Wolf is ever the great fit for a quirky teenager who goes on a bit of a roller coaster ride in a plot, while Lakeith Stanfield is actually pretty good as the mysterious L, the strange detective determined to stop Light and his actions, while Willem Dafoe is also good as Death God Ryuk. The performances aren’t necessarily the problem but the plot, storytelling and pacing is and to be fair, I’m judging the film just as a standalone film, not as a straight adaptation (because it isn’t) though I will make comparisons to the anime series in relation to why it’s so good and highly acclaimed.
From the offset, there’s just a very rushed feeling to the story, as if Wingard is trying to rush into the concept of the Death Note and have Light immediately set about using it with no trepidation and to be fair, he is a bit reluctant to use it at first but it’s hard to believe a high school kid would so wistfully dive head in to killing masses of people, we don’t really get much backstory to Light or his personality, aside from him hating bullies and being a bit of a loner. And that’s a shame because Lights personality should be a big part of the story, defining why he uses the Death Note and how he justifies using it and while it’s touched on, we never delve into Lights psyche or get any moralization for what he’s doing, right or wrong. And that’s where Mia comes in, sort of, Lights more deranged other half who feels every bit the psychopath when it comes to the Death Note, their relationship is strange to say the least and again, with little to no explanation they get together which is hard to believe.
The film does explain the Death Note, its rules and so on but it gets a bit lost in some of the melodrama from the series, with some of the more dramatic moments coming across as unintentionally funny, admittedly due to some awkward acting mainly from Nat Wolf and again, the actual series is very dark and some moments are played deliberately for humorous effect but they feel a bit at odd in live action with the films tone. And very importantly and I have to go back to the series for this, half of what made Death Note the series so thrilling is the game of cat and mouse between Light and L, two super smart individuals set in their ways that can’t see eye to eye, think of Brody in Homeland for the first 3 seasons trying to keep his identity secret and that’s more in line with how it felt to watch Death Note. However what we get in the film is a rushed, relationship between the two with characters jumping to strange conclusion that make no sense in the context of the film.
All in all, Death Note isn’t a complete failure but it falls wide of the mark with a rushed plot and little of what made the actual series such a gripping, engaging watch, the performances are alright but with some silly moments and over the top twists, you might find yourself not being able to take the film remotely seriously.
. Some good peformances
. Not enough delving into Light or Ls’ psyche and their back and forth
. Pacing of the film is odd, scenes transition very quickly and the plot feels rushed