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Death Note

Misguided adaptation

(Edit) 07/03/2021

Version I saw: Netflix stream

Actors: 6/10

Plot/script: 4/10

Photography/visual style: 7/10

Music/score: 5/10

Overall: 5/10

By the time I saw this film on the second day of release, it was already getting very bad word-of-mouth. Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata's original manga and the anime adaptation are both widely considered to be high-water marks of their forms, so it seemed an obvious choice for Netflix, and indeed only a matter of time, but...

Many of the changes it makes are entirely reasonable, and I have no argument with them. Transplanting the action to America, renaming characters, all par for the course. However, the more subtle changes betray that the director and writers did not have a clue what they had.

At its heart, Death Note is a competition of elaborate mind games between two beguiling but amoral genius psychopaths, Light Yagami and the mysterious investigator L. Genius chess, if you will, but with lives on the line. Director Adam Wingard and writers Charley and Vlas Parlapanides and Jeremy Slater reframed their Light Turner as a clever but awkward, emotionally wrought teenager. This might seem like an understandable decision, to make him relatable to a western audience... but that would be fundamentally missing the point of Death Note! We end up with something that is a lot more generic, and a lot more mediocre.

There is a lot of good and a lot of bad in the adaptation. Willem Dafoe is superbly cast as the demonic Ryuk, and some of the plot developments are indeed fairly clever. It's visually pretty stylish too, with plenty of visual flair that feeds into the emotional tone from the outset. On the other hand, the soundtrack is very cheesy, and there are some daft decisions regarding props and set dressing too.

To be good on balance, a film has to have more good than bad, and this Death Note adaptation simply doesn't. For every good detail or element - and there are plenty of them - it has something rubbish. I can't recommend it at all.

For my full review, see my independent film blog on Blogspot, Cinema Inferno:

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