Death Note Review
New twist on original premise
Willem Dafoe as Ryuk
Rushed, no breaks between the action
Many fans will not appreciate the direction this movie takes
Death Note is a new Netflix Original Movie from director Adam Wingard. Based on the manga and anime series of the same name, Death Note follows teenager Light Turner as he discovers a mysterious notebook that has the power to kill any person whose name is written in it.
The story wastes no time before jumping into the inciting incident of Light (Nat Wolff) receiving the Death Note. Before long, he finds himself face to face with the death God, Ryuk (Willem Dafoe), who encourages him to try the notebook. Light teams up with Mia Sutton (Margaret Qualley), who becomes his girlfriend and together they become the killer known, and often worshipped, as Kira.
As Kira kills more and more people, mysterious and world-renowned detective L (Lakeith Stanfield) joins James Turner (Shea Whigham), Light’s father and a police officer, on his hunt for Kira. L is able to uncover the identity of Kira, leading the story towards a spectacular climax that must be seen to be fully appreciated.
The plot of Death Note has always been strong, and the movie is no exception to that. When exploring what could possibly go wrong when an intelligent young man is given a godly power, things are sure to be interesting. The movie is considered a “radical adaptation,” meaning the story deviates from the show pretty drastically while still keeping with the basic premise. For fans who go into this expecting an exact shot-for-shot remake of the manga or anime, there will be disappointment. If the Death Note movie is approached as a new interpretation of the idea, the plot is much more enjoyable.
The movie is very fast-paced with no break between the actions and reactions between Light/Mia and L/James. Every scene has importance, and without paying attention, you could miss something that is referenced later on.
The acting in Death Note was good. There were many complaints of “white washing” prior to the release, but each actor does a good job of portraying his or her character. Nat Wolff, who plays Light, does an excellent job of portraying a teen who has just been given a fantastic power, but who is also trying to impress a crush, as many teenagers do. Margaret Qualley clearly shows that Mia is a rather twisted individual looking for power to make her feel important. Lakeith Stanfield leaves a conflicting feeling for his performance as L. On one hand, he displays L’s intelligence and quirkiness with ease, but fans of the Death Note series will notice that many of L’s quirkssuch as the way he sits and the way he holds the phone are forgotten or only shown once. Perhaps due to his lack of screen time in comparison to Light, much of L’s character is told to the audience rather than shown. This can be attributed to the radical adaptation that the movie took, as overall this version of L has a much shorter temper than other versions. Shea Whigham does a great job portraying Light’s father and the police officer in charge of the Kira investigation. Finally, rounding out the cast, is Willem Dafoe as Ryuk. Though Ryuk overall is not in much of the movie, his character is likely the most accurate to the source material. Ryuk is hidden in shadow most of the time, adding to the mystery that the death god has, but Dafoe’s vocals are exactly what you would expect to hear from Ryuk.
As a whole, the character development in this movie is very realistic and believable. By her final scene, Mia has been consumed by the power that using the Death Note has given her, and it results in her demise. In the final hospital scene, Light shows that he is still the intelligent kid he always has been, but he admits he has made mistakes and that he was supposed to be helping the good guys. His father, James, is clearly conflicted at having come to the realization that his son has caused the deaths of over 400 criminals, while L goes from a calm and analytical detective, to contemplating murder due to the death of his lifelong friend.
The primary effects used in the movie are the gore from the various murders and the CGI for Ryuk’s appearance. Neither of these effects required anything too intensive, as Ryuk was primarily concealed in shadows. The effects were believable and not distracting. It is evident that the movie had a limited budget for their effects, and they use them minimally because of this. This is both good and bad. While more scenes with Ryuk would have been appreciated, the character’s scattered appearances were still good and progressed the story as needed.
This is where most people will begin to argue. This movie will not be enjoyable if you go into it expecting a spot-on adaptation of the anime or manga. The personalities of Light, Mia, and L do not match with the source material, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The movie takes the premise of Death Note, but interprets it in a new way. Fans of the source material who approach it as a new interpretation of the premise will find it far more enjoyable than anyone who approaches it expecting the movie be an exact copy.
Death Note is getting a lot of hate for not being true to the source material, but honestly, the movie is pretty good. The acting is solid and the characters learn and grow from the events that unfold. The only “issues” that anyone could really have with this movie is how closely it sticks to the source material. Get the source material out of your head, and enjoy the ride this movie takes you on.