Release Date: August 25, 2017
Director: Adam Wingard
Stars: Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Willem Dafoe, Shea Whigham
I don’t know if I really have any right to review Death Note because I am not familiar with the manga or the anime series that made the property popular but I felt obligated to watch it because Adam Wingard was directing. Wingard has made some pretty solid films over the past few years (The Guest, You’re Next, Segments in the VHS 1 & 2) but his most recent movie, a reboot of the Blair Witch Project ended up being a little dull with the exception of a few scenes. Hollywood seems to think that Wingard is worth investing in as he’s been tapped to direct Godzilla vs Kong in 2020 as a part of the Warner Brothers’ monster universe.
I think its safe to say that I’m a fan of Wingard but I don’t exactly know how loyal his film is to the original source material but the film is about Light Turner (Nat Wolff) a young outcast who comes into possession of a mysterious book called Death Note when it literally falls out of the sky. Then he meets the death god Ryuk (voiced by Willem Dafoe) where he learns that he can kill anyone by writing their name in the Death Note book. After a few Final Destination style kills to prove the books validity he starts to use the book to kill criminals with the help of his new girlfriend Mia (Margaret Qualley). Disguised under the name “Kira” the pair start to become drunk with power until a detective named L (Lakeith Stanfield) starts to track them down.
I will admit that the film starts off fairly strongly by introducing the book and all its guidelines but its when the detective enters the film that the plot starts to get a little wild. This Netflix original is only about 100 minutes long and it seems like Wingard is trying to race to finish. Its not very often that I think a film could benefit from being longer but I think it would apply to Death Note. The film is fairly stylish but it doesn’t dive into the weird premise like I hoped it would. It seems like it is intended to take place in a universe that is a little too grounded.
Light should be a lot more interesting than he really is. He doesn’t really struggle with the debate on whether he deserves to lead people to their deaths and he doesn’t really feel any remorse for killing all these people. There is so much time devoted to the investigation and Light’s attempts to keep his secret that we never really get a chance to explore the character past the first act. Ryuk is probably the most interesting character in the film but he rarely appears. Willem Dafoe is outstanding as the voice and its just further proof that we need the man to play the Joker at least once before he dies.
Death Note becomes this Joker and Harley Quinn style love story that never really works. It takes too much time away from the premise and the relationship is conveniently adapted as neither character really knows whether they want to love each other or kill each other. Its their relationship that gets the exploration in the final minutes rather than the conflict with Light and L.
After the accusations of white washing that the media loves to through at anime adaptations Death Note appears to only be worth your time if you’ve read the manga or watched the anime. Netflix appears to be fairly confident in the property and despite weak reviews they’ve already expressed interest in producing a sequel if the film gets some attention from their costumers. I would like to see Wingard get another chance to do this right because there is a good film that has yet to be made with this premise.
Death Note is available on Netflix now if you feel like checking it out.
Death Note gets 48 out of 100