“Death Note” is one of the newer films to be added to Netflix’s register. Based on the 2006 anime of the same name, “Death Note” boasts of an all-star cast and $40 million budget, but not much else.
“Death Note” centers around Seattle teenager Light Turner (portrayed by Nat Wolff) who suddenly comes into possession of a mysterious book that claims to kill anyone’s name who is written inside it. Light is skeptical until he comes face to face with the demon, Ryuk (Willem Dafoe), who does the book’s bidding. Light and love interest Mia (Margaret Qualley) begin killing criminals and terrorists under the pseudonym Kira. The world becomes obsessed with Kira, believing the supernatural force to be the new Messiah.
However, not everyone is convinced that Kira is in the right. L (Lakeith Stanfield) is an eccentric, young private investigator stationed in Japan when a Kira slaughter occurs. L tracks Kira’s origins to Seattle, where Light’s detective father has just been assigned to head the Kira investigation with L’s assistance. Light now must lay low until the investigation blows over.
I’ll admit it. I haven’t seen the “Death Note” anime yet. Normally, I will watch movie adaptations before I indulge in the work that inspired them. Keeping them separate allows me to like each as an individual medium for story, rather than always expecting the movie to be exactly like the source material. Spoiler alert: the movie will never be exactly like the book. After watching the “Death Note” movie, I’m even more excited to watch the well-loved anime because this was bad, guys. It was very bad.
I’m one of those people who enjoy watching bad films, but “Death Note” was not a film I enjoyed hate-watching. The acting in this film is on a new level of cringe-worthiness and one-dimensionality. Don’t get me wrong, I love Nat Wolff (Naked Brothers Band forever and always), and I believe he has the potential to be a great actor. So far in his career, though, I’ve yet to see him a role that truly wowed me. In “Death Note”, all I saw Wolff accomplish was screaming like a wimp.
As for Willem Dafoe, the entire movie I was asking myself the question: “Why have you done this to yourself, Willem Dafoe?” Ryuk’s attitude reminds me of that of my housecat. One day he loves you and is looking out for your best interest, and then the next thing you know, he hates you and wants you out of the picture. I know it’s implicitly stated in the film that Light shouldn’t trust Ryuk, but I would say don’t trust Willem Dafoe’s name and expect this character to be any good. Don’t stop starring in Wes Anderson films yet, Mr. Dafoe.
The only performance I enjoyed was Lakeith Stanfield (who you might remember from “Get Out” earlier this year) who played L, the only character in the movie that had motivation. Being an orphan, L feels he must prove himself to the whole world, rather than just his family. You understand his determination to catch Kira. The one critique I do have for Stanfield is that when he tried to make L appear emotionally-unstable, he tried a little too hard. Stanfield, already has a very emotive face and making him spend a whole minute mourning Watari’s sleep mask is kind of insulting to how good of an actor he is.
This movie was also visually boring. Alfred Hitchcock was right when he said most movies are just pictures of people talking. The dialogue of this film was a failure, so “Death Note” would have benefitted from some better cinematography. The actors’ blocking was never interesting. The entire movie was colored in this very dark shade of blue. My laptop brightness had to be all the way up to see what was going on most of the time. Not only were the shots blandly composed and colored, the transitions between shots were dull, too. The whole movie felt very rushed, never focusing on one perspective long enough.
There was a shot composition that I did really enjoy. It’s probably my favorite thing about this movie. When Light first starts controlling Watari, Watari is about to board a train. He has a suitcase that the camera is focused on that moves out of the shot to reveal the identical train siding hiding behind it before dollying back to reveal the train more fully. I felt really engaged with the picture when this scene occurred.
In the end, “Death Note” was not the terrible movie I was expecting. I was hoping for your classic bad movie, one that I would want to watch again and again. Sadly, “Death Note” was so horrible in its execution that I doubt I’ll want to revisit it.
Overall rating: 2/10