Movie Review: DEATH NOTE
Let’s start this by saying the following: This is not the Death Note we know. It’s nothing like the manga or the anime save for the fact that it’s about a boy with a notebook killing people. That’s where the similarities begin and end. The pace is different, the characters are different. With that being the case, know that I will only make comparisons to the original as a way to illustrate the failures and successes of this one. Now, shall we begin?
Death Note, or at least this Death Note, is the story of Light Turner (Nat Wolff), a young boy with a carefree attitude, who finds a book that allows him to kill people by writing their name in it. Because of his checkered past when his mom was killed by a drunk driver and his obsession with making people respect him, he decides to embark on a quest to right the wrongs of the world by eliminating criminals. He is joined on this quest by his girlfriend Mia Sutton (Margaret Qualley), who has a sort of fetish for the killing of bad people. But in his way, the world attempts to stop him as they struggle to discover whether they think he is a killer or a savior.
First and foremost, the characters in this movie are strange. The two leads are executed with thought, but the resulting execution feels dry and underdeveloped. We smashed about two dozen episodes into one hour and a half film, and the resulting issue is that they are underdeveloped and only facially sufficient. There are relationships that feel whole, such as that between Light and his father James (Shea Whigham). But overall, we don’t get the time to appreciate anyone because the fast moving pace is often times to much to take in all at once.
Secondly, there are some things to like here. Wingard’s direction is solid and it’s obvious he knows how to pick music and make a good action sequence. Both of these elements defeat the normal expectation of a terrible American remake nicely. Combined with that, the acting of everyone but the leads in this isn’t horrible. There is some nice hearkening that reminds me of Heroes, a show that producer Masi Oka was involved in. However, that being said, there is so much hokeyness of the part of Wolff and of Keith Stanfield who plays L.
What really is strange here is the story makes little sense. The motivations and strange fetish of death seem really strange in the end. Mia and Light’s character seem like they completely rush through any thoughts about this, and the lack of a connection to the source material could have alleviated this issue. Furthermore, why some bad kid would suddenly decide the right the world’s wrong makes no sense. Consequently, the liberties taken with the rules of the Death Note make the whole thing a little hard to swallow, even though it is already a pretty rough story.
Unfortunately, the best actor, Willem Dafoe, is hardly used at all. Whereas Ryuk has always been an active participant in helping Light previously, in this version he is merely a footnote and one that makes little to no sense. I think this is ultimately a shame.
Lastly, what really sucks here is that there’s a lot of promise in this version. The ultimate view of American society could allow for some really deep examination of the human condition. Not only is that true, but the stupidly over dramatic emotions of this version left the little touches that are good useless. What really is lost here is all of the smart drama and chess playing that make Death Note such a good story. This version really is only facially efficient. And the problem with that is, in the end, it’s almost boring, unfortunately. More than that, there’s no lesson here. And it leaves the story drab. I can’t see this version going well with old fans, and with new fans, they’ll see this more as a Romeo and Juliet love story with a ton of death. Simply put, it just doesn’t hold on. If you have a Netflix subscription, give a try. Otherwise, don’t bother.
Willem Dafoe rules
Nice score and great action
Some terrible changes