Saturday, September 2, 2017

Movie Review: "Death Note" (2017)

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Movie"Death Note"
Director: Adam Wingard
Year: 2017
Rating: TV-MA
Running Time: 1 hour, 41 minutes

An angsty high school kid finds a notebook that has the power to kill anyone he wishes as long as he knows their name and their face. He uses this new found power to execute criminals at will, making him a hero to some and a monster to others. Things start to get out of control when a hyperactive super detective simply called L starts to close in on him.

If you found a book that would allow you to kill anyone you wanted, what would you do? Light, played by Nat Wolff, would use it to become a god-like superhero with the mentality of The Punisher. "Death Note" is an Americanized version of a Japanese animated series of the same name. The setting has been relocated from Japan to Seattle, Washington, though the general premise remains the same. It is directed by Adam Wingard, who is best known for directing the horror films "You're Next," "The Guest," and "Blair Witch." The story revolves around the aforementioned Light, a high schooler who finds a notebook titled "Death Note." This book has a series of rules, the main one being the possessor of the book is able to write any person's name down, and as long as they know the face to go along with it, said individual will die in whatever manner he chooses. Light's quest starts with good intentions but seems to get out of control when he shares the power with a sociopathic girl named Mia, played by Margaret Qualley,  whose moral compass isn't quite as tuned as Light's. Together, they use the power of the "Death Note" to kill criminals using the alias Kira. A detective called L, played by Lakeith Stanfield, starts to close in on them, so Mia decides that protecting themselves and their "love" is the most important thing.

"Death Note" obviously has a good concept since it's the same one used in the very popular Japanese animated series. We haven't seen this show yet, so this version of the material is our first exposure to its overall themes, though we have heard nothing but praise for the original series. There is a lot of interesting stuff in this film. It has tons of cool visuals. Director Adam Wingard and cinematographer David Tattersall play with darkness to add to the overall mood of the film, and many scenes are backlit with various pops of colors to keep the audience interested. We love Willem Dafoe as the death god called Ryuk. We found the animation on this character and Willem Dafoe's voice to be a perfect fit, creating a shadowed, creepy looking, menacing antagonist. The character of Ryuk is the single best thing about this adaptation. There are also many death sequences where Wingard uses his horror background to create "Final Destination" style deaths where external forces create fatalities that look like accidents. There is no shortage of blood in these moments, and we were honestly surprised by some of the carnage on display here.

This film falters everywhere else, most notably in its casting choices. We just don't feel Nat Wolff fits the character of Light. He is not edgy enough and is too conventionally pretty looking for such a character. Many moments that may have been intended to be dramatic often come off as comical with Wolff's over the top acting and faux-emo attitude. We also didn't like the character of Mia who as we mentioned seems like a total sociopath. She is a cheerleader and we don't fully understand her motivations for murdering people so easily other than "no one listens to me." These characters combine to make a really annoying duo. Lakeith Stanfield is wasted in this picture. His portrayal of L seems manic, and though that might have been the point, it's not done convincingly enough which is a shame because we really like him as an actor.

We've heard a couple of people we know, whose opinions we trust, say this is one of the worst movies ever made. We're almost certain this is because of its failing to stay true to the source material and its overall shallow exploration of its concept. We agree that "Death Note" feels like an extended television show pilot with only minor effort taken to explain who and what everyone and everything is, but the worst movie ever? Have they seen "The Emoji Movie"? Look, we're not saying this is a good film. It is almost wholly miscast and has an overly simplified plot that feels a bit contrived, but it is momentarily entertaining at times even though most of the acting leaves much to be desired. At least this version of "Death Note" has inspired us to seek out the original anime.

My Rating: 4.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 4.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 4.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 42%
Do we recommend this movie: No.

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