This review was originally posted to Austentatious Darling by Darcy Rae.
Death Note (2017)
Director: Adam Wingard
Screenwriters: Charles Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides, Jeremy Slater
Starring: Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Shea Wigham, Willem Dafoe
Truly, I don’t know where to begin assessing the car crash of Netflix’s much anticipated adaptation of the popular ‘Death Note’ anime, other than to say quite simply; they missed the point.
The glaringly obvious white washing is only furthermore painfully reinforced by the Westernisation of these characters’ names, whilst maintaining that Light was still inexplicably called ‘Light’. Seems legit. And if that wasn’t bad enough, they probably thought they were being really clever by changing Light’s surname to Turner. This indeed serves as just one of the many examples of this adaptation trying (and failing) to explain the complexity of ‘Death Note’. In a way, it’s good that Light’s surname is changed, as the character given to us by Nat Wolff is certainly not the Light we all came to love and hate in the anime.
The many ways in which they miss the point of Light is truly astounding. Light Yagami is transformed from a bored, brainy model student, and the embodiment of good vs. evil, into a problem kid who has no real gravitas on screen. He’s given a brand new backstory which is not very subtly shoved down our throats in order to explain Light’s motive for his hatred and justice trip. It doesn’t help that the casting is completely wrong. Wolff, with his terrible bleached hair and worse roots than me, looks like a kid who could easily be a murderer. This is not Light.
The point of Light’s entire character arc is that he is a handsome boy who is perfect in almost every way. The model student, son and brother. Light Yagami has no friends because he chooses not to have friends. He has no need for friends. He doesn’t need anyone. He’s a boy who you would look at and never even begin to guess that he is a mass murderer.
Can we talk about the ridiculousness of Turner’s screaming at the reveal of Ryuk? Willem Defoe gives an incredible performance as an underused CGI Shinigami. He was perfect; the voice, the face, the lines, everything. It was the only thing that was spot on. But even then, it wasn’t explained that Ryuk drops the Note on Earth because he was bored and wanted to see what would happen. The adaptation misses the parallels between Ryuk and Light. Light and L. The alignments of boredom, intelligence, religion, science, good, evil. I also missed the golden scenes between Ryuk and Light where Ryuk is just plain bored and needy.
‘Death Note’ has such complex themes, and the 100 minutes of run time was not enough to effectively explain everything. Indeed, it tries to include and (clunkily) explain so much, it was just so quickly ran through that I just didn’t care. Indeed, the pseudonym of ‘Kira’ has to be the most laughable explanation in the entire film – the name Light Turner gives himself from a few Wiki searches instead of it being the name the government give him out of pure fear for what is happening.
It turns into a Final Destination-esque gore fest, which is something I was really afraid of. The movie’s conclusion – a dramatic Ferris wheel scene – had me rolling my eyes and checking how much longer I had to endure this terrible torture. The gore added nothing to the narrative or the feel of the film and, instead, made it seem gimmicky and cheap.
Light goes from being the smart and calculated boy who manages to keep the Note a secret even when the government was spying on him the entire time, into someone who carries the Note around with him like it’s his poetry book, reading it in a school gym. When Mia is properly introduced, Turner doesn’t take much convincing to reveal the secrets of the Note to her. It’s all to please her. Yet again, this is a massive failure of the reinvention of Light’s character. Light uses people. He doesn’t ever love Misa really; she’s just a pawn to him. But no. Instead, our edgy and ‘relatable’ psychopath asks Mia if he can kiss her. Incredible.
Misa’s character was so off. Being renamed Mia Sutton had me cringing enough, but she’s now a self-isolating cheerleader. The adaptation doesn’t even give her the dignity of having any real dimension to her character or indeed her own motives. She doesn’t own a Death Note, and is more just sort of there. Clearly the budget didn’t stretch far enough to create Rem, and truth be told it barely stretched far enough to give Ryuk more than about 10 minutes of collective screen time.
I didn’t understand the necessity of the whole relationship between Turner and Mia. It was weird. It was forced. It was kind of like watching paint dry. More pivotal moments of Light’s entire character dropped away with every PG emo sex scene, distinctly lacking any real spark or chemistry. I didn’t understand why they felt the need to make it a real relationship. They didn’t even really address Mia’s death at the end.
L. Oh, L. I loved that they kept a lot of his character in there; the way he sits, him not wearing shoes, his sugar habit. Stanfield even nails a lot of L’s mannerisms and movements pretty well. But I feel like he’s too polished for L. L who is malnourished and sleep deprived and dirty. They missed out the entire pivotal build-up of tension between Light and L. The way L catches him out is brilliant in the anime, but in the film, it falls flat and anticlimactic amongst the plethora of information being thrown at the audience. The battle between the minds of these two geniuses is non-existent, making the reveal that L found out Light was Kira anticlimactic. There was no tension and no thrill; it’s such a colossal disappointment, I truly don’t know how they managed to get it so wrong. It’s almost a crime to call it ‘Death Note’.
There’s so much more I could say, but this is already enough of a rant as it is. So in short: Ryuk is amazing. The other characters are dead to me. Please, God, don’t let there be a sequel.
And make no mistake; that 5 is purely for Willem Defoe’s truly inspiring performance.
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