Devoid of any likeable characters, plot thickness or respect for its source material, Adam Wingard’s “Death Note” is a recent addition to Netflix that anyone is best advised to avoid.
The Japanese cultural phenomenon of “Death Note” is long established.
For those curious, the premise of “Death Note” is this: a young man finds a book that brings about the death of anyone who has their name written in it by him. The book comes with a Japanese death god that carries out these grisly tasks, and the young man goes about killing to try and “cleanse the world” as a sort of god under the name “Kira.”
A familiar title to anyone who has exposed themselves to anime or manga, the original manga series “Death Note” is critically acclaimed and has spawned three anime series, two novels, three video games and eight live-action adaptations. Of these, the most recent addition is Netflix’s original film.
Taking the story from the Japanese setting, the new film sets the story in Seattle. This garnered Netflix and director Adam Wingard a lot of flack, with many shouting accusations of white-washing. Nevertheless, the movie is now available on the streaming platform and quickly became a popular title.
In this film, the young man is named Light Turner, played by “Paper Towns” lead Nat Wolfe. Wolfe’s acting is, put delicately, quite poor.
When the demon Ryuk, played by Willem Dafoe, first appears to him, his surprise and screaming is difficult to watch. Dafoe’s motion capture portrayal of the sinister monster is a spark of light in the film, but sadly he’s given minimal screen time against the rest of the cast.
Light as a protagonist makes it very difficult to root for him. While the audience is meant to believe he’s an intelligent, well-meaning teenager, his decisions constantly cause the viewers to call his judgment and common sense into question.
As an example, when his crush, a cheerleader named Mia Sutton played by Margaret Qualley, asks him about the Death Note, he very willingly shows her exactly what it is and how it works with no hesitation whatsoever.
Mia is an even worse character. A one-dimensional antagonist, she’s a venomous presence in Light’s life, often convincing him to kill with no abandon or resentment. The audience will scream at their screens, telling Light to get away from her and let her go, but he’ll forgive her for offense after offense, to the point where one once again questions his common sense.
The plot of the film resolves with confusion and frustration. Characters seem to make decisions that best serve the progression of the plot instead of decisions that make sense to their characters.
The supporting cast, Light’s father played by Shea Whigham and the detective L played by Lakeith Stanfield, do their best to bring some sense to the plot. Some sense, that is, until the final act conflict that sees them throw away all previous characterization and development to make decisions and moves that further the story and artificially create tension.
Visually, the film is uninteresting beyond its special effects. The music is unbearable at moments, and the climax of the film is nearly ruined by the on-the-nose choice of music.
Those curious of the “Death Note” franchise and premise should not start here. A mediocre adaptation and unsatisfying film, the viewer will be left feeling frustrated.
If the curiosity is too much, be warned, “Death Note” will waste time for little payoff. Those who are fans of the original series, expect little from this film. This reviewer cannot recommend “Death Note” for anyone’s Netflix queue.