Time: 101 Minutes
Nat Wolff as Light Turner/”Kira”
Lakeith Stanfield as L
Margaret Qualley as Mia Sutton
Shea Whigham as James Turner
Paul Nakauchi as Watari
Willem Dafoe and Jason Liles as Ryuk
Director: Adam Wingard
Light Turner (Nat Wolff), a bright student, stumbles across a mystical notebook that has the power to kill any person whose name he writes in it. Light decides to launch a secret crusade to rid the streets of criminals. Soon, the student-turned-vigilante finds himself pursued by a famous detective known only by the alias L (Keith Stanfield).
Adam Wingard’s Death Note was something I was curious about. I hadn’t watched the original anime but I knew of its concept and I loved Wingard’s direction of The Guest, so it had a lot of potential. Upon its release, his adaptation had received a lot of hate, mostly from people who saw the original anime. I decided to check it out for myself and honestly, Death Note wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be but it is a waste of potential. Some of the performances were good and the direction was mostly great, but this script has so many problems that it really lets the overall movie down.
I’ll just get this out of the way, the writing has a lot of issues. Again, I haven’t seen the original anime so I can’t comment on the changes they’ve made, but from what I can tell they’ve made a lot. The movie feels a little rushed, Light (the protagonist) gets the Death Note and makes his first kill within 10 minutes, there is barely enough time for his character or really anything to be established. This idea about the Death Note had a lot of potential and at first its okay, with Light killing off people under a different identity but after a while this plotline just stops. Honestly looking back at this movie, not a whole lot of things happen, Light gets the Death Note, he starts killing people off, a detective named L comes along posing a problem, there’s some conflict there and then it’s the third act. This movie is an hour 40 minutes, and while this movie isn’t always interesting, I’d be fine with it being longer if they actually had more going on. The dialogue was terrible at points, I found it difficult to care about what was going on and I really wasn’t consistently invested throughout Death Note. There were also some unintentionally hilarious moments, an example being Light’s reaction to seeing Ryuk (Willem Dafoe) for the first time. I will say that I enjoyed watching parts of Death Note, there were writing issues aside and some cringe worthy moments but for the most part I was somewhat intrigued or entertained. The third act however does feel like they just wanted to shove so many twists into it, like its ridiculous how many times they just kept putting twists, which makes the movie feel jarring instead of actually making it better. The writing is really a mixed bag.
Nat Wolff is the lead actor of Death Note, I don’t know if he is a good actor or not but he didn’t really give a good performance. Granted the character wasn’t written that well, his character motives and changes aren’t really established well enough. I guess from what I can tell, the character is different from the anime and while I can understand why it was done in this way, it’s less interesting. However Wolff does have some moments where he’s somewhat okay for what the character is written here. That’s more than I can say for the love interest played by Margaret Qualley, who is really annoying and unlikable. I get that she might be intended to be that way but there’s nothing likable about her. The romance between the two is unfortunately a prominent part of the film. The chemistry isn’t strong, and it just starts randomly after a few scenes of them together. Those two aside, there are some pretty good performances at the same time. Willem Dafoe does the voice or Ryuk, a demon of the Death Note book and he definitely stole the show whenever his character was around. Ryuk isn’t around a lot unfortunately. There was also the character of L, played by Keith Stanfield. He was a standout of the film, I can’t tell whether there was any major changes to him from the original anime but on his own I thought he was pretty good. The one issues I’ll say is that the film did seem to build up to his character’s backstory being explored but it never gets resolved. So acting/characters overall was rather mixed.
One of the things I was looking forward to with Death Note was Adam Wingard’s direction, the look of You’re Next and especially The Guest was incredible. Wingard once again directed this movie so well, the colour aesthetics looking beautiful, the cinematography was great, the direction was mostly great… I say mostly because for whatever reason there were constant turning dutch angles that just randomly appear, they were very out of place and obnoxious. One thing to note is that the death scenes that occur often feel like Final Destination deaths, as in they are very over the top, graphic and at times goofy. This may be a good thing or a bad thing for you, depending on whether it entertains you. For me I just found it laughably over the top at time, I couldn’t take it seriously. The score by Atticus and Leopold Ross was solid and worked very well.
Adam Wingard’s Death Note is a mixed bag. I loved most of his direction, some of the performances were good, and there were some aspects about the plot that I liked. But some of the performances were weak and the writing has a ton of issues, which really let down the movie. I guess if you’re curious enough check it out, its on Netflix right now, so at worse you’d only be wasting around 100 minutes of your time. I heard that Wingard may be doing a sequel to this movie, if this happens I hope he does a much better job than what he did here.