The latest adaptation of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s legendary manga has been released by Netflix. Here’s what I thought.
When watching any type of adaptation, whether it be a piece of classic literature or a cult graphic novel, what really matters is how the work stands on its own. Sure it’s cool that West Side Story is based on Romeo and Juliet, but that’s not the reason it is beloved. I’m really enjoying AMC’s Preacher, despite not having any knowledge of the original material. I can even get on board with the Americanised version of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, so hopefully Netflx’s newest film Death Note, directed by Adam Wingard, has its own merits rather than relying on the goodwill of its source material.
This new version of the Death Note story is set in 2017 Seattle. Nat Wolff is Light Turner, a young man who has lost his mother recently. Whilst writing homework assignments for fellow school pupils, he finds a mysterious book with Death Note written on the front and a series of rules inside. Later on in detention, Light is visited by Ryuk (Willem Dafoe) a death god who explains that the book is real, and that any human whose name is written in the book will be killed. Light starts off by killing a bully, and then after an argument with his police officer father (Shea Whigham), arranges for the man who killed his mother to die in a bizarre restaurant accident.
Along with new girlfriend Mia Suton (Margaret Qualley), Light starts killing criminals around the globe. He wants to rid the world of the people who do bad things in the world, and invents the identity of Kira to strike fear into criminals and inspire the common people. Light and Mia also hope that using a Japanese name will throw people off the scent of their actions, but it brings them into the sights of L (Keith Stanfield), a… strange detective. He has traced the mysterious Kira to Seattle however, and joins up with Light’s father to stop Kira. With the net seemingly closing in, Light finds himself getting trapped by the Death Notes’ rules, and realises Ryuk is a lot more than just a weapon of death. Who can he trust? Will he be able to survive, and just how far will he go?
Death Note is a film with a lot of interesting ideas that feels rushed throughout. I appreciate a brisk pace as much as the next man, but the introduction of the Death Note through to Light becoming a vigilante is basically the set-up to the main story, meaning that characters’ motivations have to be said out loud in some clunky Basil Exposition scenes. Light’s only concern with using this power over life and death is that he might get caught and have to stop. There are also some lighter moments that passed over a bit too quickly. At times it feels like the TV series Gotham, struggling to find a tone between some uneven story lines, and there’s a very strange choice made with the footage shown over the end credits.
Adam Wingard made two cracking films in You’re Next and The Guest. There are flashes of his skill in Death Note – there is plenty of splatter in the deaths, and the sparse music is used very well – but the film is just too packed to work.
It’s almost as if it’s a huge, sprawling story condensed into a 100 minute time frame.
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
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