The American adaption from Netflix of the popular “Death Note” manga series is finally here and boy is it something. Although the trailers and clips received mixed reactions at best, there’s still quite a bit of hype around it. Mostly because of the extreme amount of curiosity to find out whether or not an American version of the beloved Japanese manga would work. Well I’ve seen it and it’s not terrible..but it ain’t that good either.
Here’s a quick synopsis for the film for those who aren’t familiar:
- “Death Note” follows a high school student named Light(Natt Wolff) who comes across a supernatural notebook, from the Death god Ryuk(Willem Dafoe). With it, he can kill anyone he wants to and no one can trace back to him.
I’ve only seen the first two episodes of the animated TV series prior to watching this film and I really enjoyed it, just never got around to completing it. I know enough about the Death god Ryuk and Light, but beyond that not that much. So going into this I was skeptical yet hopeful as I had already heard a few not very nice things about it but was willing to give it a chance. Nevertheless, I saw it today and I must admit I’m pretty disappointed. I can’t imagine that die-hard fans of the manga will watch this film and not feel like the filmmakers truly didn’t do the story justice.
With that being said, there are a few enjoyable aspects to the film. First thing that was very apparent from the opening was director Adam Wingard’s style. I actually really liked the way he shot this film, the cinematography was neat and refreshing. It had an indie/horror movie vibe to it and I appreciated that. His previous films “You’re Next” and “The Guest” have a specific style to them that suits a niche audience if you will. I wouldn’t call myself part of that audience but his take on a dark and gritty Seattle grew on me.
The casting of Willem Dafoe as Ryuk was a stroke of genuis on their part. He’s terrific in the role, and I thought his performance was very close to the source material. The character is (to my understanding) completely CGI, and that obviously cost Netflix a lot of money as he’s barely in the film. The moments of him we do get are pretty entertaining, but I feel like the writers went about the wrong way when it came to the interactions with the main character.
In the original series, Ryuk never actually makes Light do anything specifically. Everything Light does is his own doing and the death god just watches. There’s a hint of that in the film but even in the very beginning Ryuk literally tell Light what do to, egging him on to write on the book.
For me, this laid a weak foundation to why Light is does what he does. I thought he shouldn’t have had that outer influence with Ryuk other than the fact the book is from him. If you build a weak foundation, no matter how good the rest of the stuff you put on it is, the whole thing will start crumbling down sooner or later.
The pace and flow of the movie was pretty good. Not once did I feel bored but it did feel a bit too short. It clocks in about 90 minutes and it could’ve used about at least 15 more to round out the characters a little more. That’s one of my main issues with the film. The supporting characters are very weak, including the character of L. L, played by Get Out’s Keith Stanfield. He’s a fantastic actor, and does a pretty good job capturing the mannerisms and personality of the character. He severely underused however, and his introduciton and inclusion in the film never felt complete. At one point, the movie tries to make an interesting backstory for him but I didn’t care enough by that point to get invested.
The love interest for Light named Mia, played by Margaret Qualley, is pretty good in her role. Yet again she’s not very well set up but her romance with Light was interesting to say the least. Confusing at times for sure, and it never felt truly real. Perhaps that was intention, but by the end of the movie you’ll wish they never met for the sake of humanity.
Although I don’t think it was a train wreck, it’s pretty close. There were certainly a couple of ascpects to the film I enjoyed, but overall it had a lot more potential. Say what you say about the cast, I enjoyed them for what it’s worth and I think with a better script they would’ve shined a lot more. My rating may seem low but it’s higher than most fans would give it so take that as you will.