Title: Death Note
Release Date: August 25, 2017
Studio: LP Entertainment
Director: Adam Wingard
Release Format: Netflix
I will admit; I am a pretty big fan of the Death Note anime. So, when I first saw Netflix’s trailer for their adaptation and that Willem Dafoe would be the voice behind Ryuk, I was skeptical but kept an open mind. However, the movie had only been on for a few moments before I was shaking my head in disappointment. This lazy attempt at an adaptation is something that fans of the anime and manga can really do without.
Death Note focuses on Light Turner, an intelligent high school student, who becomes the owner of a Death Note. The book is given to Light by a shinigami, or death god, named Ryuk, and he quickly discovers that this is a tool for death. As long as you know the name and face of a person, they will die if their names are written in the Death Note. Light, along with his girlfriend, Mia, attempt to use the book to make the world a better place by removing the criminals. These Kira killings quickly develop a cult following around the world and draw the attention of a quirky detective named L. As Light quickly gets in over his head, can L solve the mystery behind the mysterious killings?
Let me begin by addressing the elephant in the room, this loosely follows the original anime. If you’re going to enjoy this film even a little bit, you really have to distance yourself from the source material. However, Death Note does this weird dance between wanting to be its own thing and following the story of the original. All in all, it comes across at a poor attempt at both. Honestly, I almost wish that they would have just done an original story that takes place in the same universe versus trying to mix the two. Instead of having more of a Dexter meets Sherlock feel, the film looks and feels more like a B-Horror movie. And not in a good way.
I think the tone is one of the film’s major downfalls. The handful of deaths that you actually see on screen just come off as laughable. The amount of blood shown is almost comical and totally kills the vibe and tone that the film should have. It doesn’t take itself seriously enough to make the audience care or relate to what is happening. Light should be so obsessed with his mission that he starts to see himself become the very thing he’s hunting, but this falls flat as well. The live action adaptations turn Light into a weak and flat character, and this is only made worse by the lack of chemistry between him and the other characters. Especially Mia.
However, there are two shining stars in the bland mess that is Death Note: Ryuk and L’s performance. When the trailer released, it could easily be argued that people were more excited about Willem Dafoe (Boondock Saints) as Ryuk than the announcement of the film itself. Knowing that Ryuk’s character was well taken care of, my next immediate question was who would be playing L. And Lakeith Stanfield (Get Out) did not disappoint. Stanfield’s performance felt unique and fresh while still remaining true to the source material. Dafoe’s voice acting for Ryuk was perfect and exactly what I had hoped it would be. I honestly couldn’t imagine anyone who could have played these characters any better, and they were definitely the bright spot of the entire film.
In closing, the overwhelming problem with Death Note can be summed up in two words: lazy and boring. I could totally forgive the liberties the directors and writers took if they were at least interesting changes. These changes, however, warp or change some of the best parts about Death Note like Light’s twisted view on humanity, his entire relationship with Mia, or his ongoing mind games against L. At times, the story doesn’t even really make sense; like why Light’s dad, a Seattle police chief, is put on lead for the Kira investigation when the killings are happening all over the world? The adaptation seriously suffers from an identity crisis that is ultimately its downfall. This lack of vision confuses the audience with a blurry plot, at best, and even flatter characters that don’t draw any sympathy or understanding from viewers.
Verdict: Fans of the Death Note anime will want to add their own name to the Death Note after seeing this live action adaptation. If it weren’t for the performances of Willem Dafoe and Lakeith Standfield, the adaptation would be lost completely. A weak storyline and even weaker performances from the rest of the cast result in a totally underwhelming experience that will leave you confused and unsympathetic.
- Willem Dafoe as Ryuk
- Lakeith Stanfield as L
- The performance of almost every other actor
- Poor adaptation
- Poor chemistry
- Basically, a bad B-Horror film (and not in a good way)
- Just not entertaining
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