Oct 6, 2017

[Movies] Death Note (2017) Review

Adaptations are the safer bet in entertainment since you bank on the existing fan base to carry the new creation forward. This is particularly sought after when success has been realized in related formats like when a popular book is turned into a comic book or a successful movie that finds new life as a television series.

Death Note is a movie adaptation of an already successful manga and anime franchise. But this particular movie adaptation is an interesting creation that is (1) American and (2) a Netflix backed creation. And like most American adaptations of Japanese stories, there were immediate concerns about whitewashing and the usual sort of changes that have been observed in other translations to American entertainment.

And then the first trailer hit and...it felt like all those fears were true. It was a whitewashed cast and the story had moved from Japan to America and many other changes. It's not an absolute waste, but it could have been a heck of a lot better.

Synopsis: Death Note is a 2017 American fantasy horror movie somewhat based on the Japanese manga of the same name created by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. The movie was directed by Adam Wingard with a screenplay by Charles Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides, and Jeremy Slater and aired on Netflix.

Light Turner (Nat Wolff) is a high school student in Seattle who one day encounters a note book with the words "Death Note" on the cover after it literally fell out of the sky. It turns out that the book will help kill anyone whose name is written in it based on a particular set of rules that have also been outlined in the notebook as well. As long as the owner knows the name of the potential victim and declares a way for the person to be killed

The book also comes with Ryuk (Willem Dafoe) a death god who has some connection to the book but it's not immediately clear what that means. And Light decides to start using the Death Note to kill criminals and other people who "deserve" to die. His companion in all this besides Ryuk is Mia Sutton (Margaret Qualley), a fellow student who is a bit of a romantic interest to Light and has her own reasons for wanting to punish wrong-doers.

What I Liked: Ryuk is amazing. His CG model is pretty impressive and Willem Dafoe adds an interesting aspect to the movie. With so many bad performances in this movie, Dafoe really stands out even if he only contributed his voice. At times it feels like Ryuk doesn't get enough time on-screen given the quality of his performance here.

And in typical American fashion, many of the deaths are depicted in vivid detail. It ends up feeling a lot like a Final Destination movie given how the deaths are shown to happen, especially once we get into our first death montage with Light and Mia starting to get creative about how they're going to dispatch various  criminals.

What Could Have Been Better: As someone who wasn't too deeply into the original manga, it's easier for me to not discuss the differences in narrative and tone that was executed in this movie and discussed in many other reviews. But for me the narrative was a bit more convoluted than it needed to be and the characters did not fit together in this movie well. Why does "L" (Lakeith Stanfield) need to be such a quirky character? Why is Mia so unhinged? What is the real role of Light's dad James (Shea Whigham) in this story apart from being connected to law enforcement.

And the characters themselves are pretty weak especially with Light itself. He's a terribly indecisive protagonist and it feels like Mia is the one with more reason to really push things to a different level and it's not clear why that aspect of Mia didn't end up with Light. We'd like to think that the Death Note or Ryuk would have some reason for ending up with Light and that's not immediately clear based on the movie. And he's not necessarily clever despite the weird ending that is brought in as an attempt to tie up all the loose ends in one go.

TL;DR: Death Note is a completely different animal so don't waste even a second thinking about the original Japanese story and all that fun stuff. Dafoe's Ryuk is the only notable performance in this movie and the protagonist are more annoying than intriguing. And thus the movie only gets 1 unusual death out of a possible 5.


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