Death Note Review: Adam Wingard’s Netflix Adaptation

Death Note, a film by Netflix, follows the footsteps of its predecessors in the world of anime to live-action adaptation by being a mediocre film with little of its source material's charm and complexity. Directed by Adam Wingard and starring Nat Wolff, Keith Stanfield, Willem Dafoe, and Margaret Qualley among others, the film's biggest shortcoming lay not with the cast and crew, but in the plot's erratic pacing.

On paper, the plot is a strong one with myriad twists and turns. Strongly written characters emerge and are continuously built throughout the story, but herein lies the largest problem with Death Note. With source material consisting of a twelve-hour-long anime and a one-hundred and eight chapter's worth of manga, there is simply too much plot to confine into a single, two-hour-long film. Despite director, Adam Wingard's best efforts, it's clear that much of the plot's finer details had to be sacrificed for the sake of time.

Set in Seattle, Death Note follows anti-hero Light Turner, played by Nat Wolff. An intelligent yet angsty teenager, Light is soon thrust in over his head after discovering an ancient notebook which grants him almost godlike power over life and death. To murder, all he needs to do is simply picture an individual and write their name down in the notebook. After a brief trial period in which he tests the notebook's powers on a school bully, he quickly ropes in his love interest, Mia Sutton, played by Margaret Qualley, and together they take down numerous bad guys around the world. Dogging his steps is the eccentric detective, L, played beautifully by Keith Stanfield, who is determined to get to the bottom of these murders. All the while, the true murderer, a Japanese spirit of death named Ryuk (masterfully portrayed by Willem Dafoe) lurks in Light's bedroom.

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It is in the execution of this plot that the issues with having a very limited timeframe become apparent. Where, in the source material, L and Light were portrayed as equally skilled players in a game of metaphysical chess with real people as their pieces, the film's rush to climax undercuts this conflict by taking what could have easily been a manhunt that was long, complex, and gruelling for both parties and turns it into a showdown which is as laughably one-sided as it is embarrassingly simple. Light's gradual descent into becoming an assassin with a magical notebook as his weapon appeared to have been written out entirely, replaced instead by an instantaneous decision to embrace his newfound power.


However, while the plot suffers from constriction, the visuals and score come alive with this fast-paced take on the Death Note story. Ryuk is a nightmare come alive with a flair for dramatic entrances. Distant murder sequences are vibrant and well-crafted, thoroughly immersing the audience in the small picture in terms of the plot. The actors work their hearts out to sell their characters and, for the most part, they succeed. The movie's score sets the mood of each scene exquisitely and meshes well with the overlying structure of the plot.

Death Note, while lacking in plot, substance, and complexity, nevertheless manages to be adequately carried by its talented cast and crew. As a film, it is worth a single watch, though a rewatch may be pushing things a little too far.

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