Death Note is an original film from Netflix of a property of a popular manga/anime from Japan. It was not something that I was aware of before, so I do not have any pre-existing expectations of the story. From what I have heard, this film really takes the source material and makes a lot of changes. I do not have any judgments on that.
Light (Nat Wolff) is a high school student who winds up in possession of a magical book called the Death Note, given to him by a death god Ryuk (Willem Dafoe). Light discovers that when he writes a person’s name in the Death Note, the person would die. Light begins to, along with his girlfriend Mia (Margaret Qualley), write names of horribly evil people in an attempt to fool the world into believing that there is a god watching over the world. Light named this “god” Kira and the people began to believe in him.
However, the police began an investigation into the mysterious deaths. Light’s father James (Shea Whigham) was to head the investigation. The mysterious L (Lakeith Stanfield) came to join in and his incredible detective skills led him back to Light.
I am split with this film. For the most part, I had a decent time watching it, but there were some glaring issues that I did not like. First, the film felt rushed. The film did not seem as if it had the time to really go into depth on any of the themes involved because it then had to move along to the next point. I wonder if the anime series was longer and they tried to cram in too much, much like the movie the Dark Tower did. As I said, I am unfamiliar with the anime so I can not judge this. From my perspective, it felt too busy and so became too surface.
Second, I really liked the concept of L, and I enjoyed part of the presentation of the character, but he seemed to go way off the rails in the latter part of the film, making what appeared to be a quirky and intriguing character into a wildly inconsistent one. Lakeith Stanfield, who was great in Get Out, is solid despite what was given to him.
Third, and probably the worst of all, the ending is so terrible that, even if I had loved everything heading up to it, this would have ruined it. It felt like it was leading to a really great end and suddenly it was tossed to the side in favor of a shock value end.
Finally, the look of Ryuk was less than I would have expected. The voice of Willem Dafoe is great, but the character itself looked like a bad Halloween costume.
However, I did like much of what was here as well. The concept of the story was very original and could be mined for some really deep and fascinating story telling. The idea that a kid could be trying to make himself into a god by killing evil people is a interesting idea. Secondly, Mia becomes unbalanced as the movie continues and that could have been a great look at how power can corrupt even the sweetest people. I thought most of the performances were well done, although Nat Wolff was a bit over the top. And I truly enjoyed how the climax of the story came to be, with the scene at the Ferris wheel and the direct aftermath being cool and showing how clever Light could be.
So I am split by the film. I have a feeling that if you are a big fan of the source material, you are not going to enjoy this movie. If you come into it blind as I did, it will not offend you as much. As a late night Netflix watch, Death Note is acceptable, but I would not feel the need to run to my Netflix account and watch this immediately.