Quick Hit: Oddly watchable, this manga-turned film features bloody gore and questionable performances.
I haven’t ever read the manga Death Note, but I have friends that absolutely love it. So I went into this movie slightly optimistically – especially since it featured Willem Dafoe (I’m still trying to forgive him for The Great Wall). The result, from director Adam Winguard (The Guest) is a slightly uneven and even more tone deaf, but gives you more than one reason to watch it.
To boil the plot down for those that have no idea what it is: essentially a gloomy teenager, Light Turner (Nat Wolff) finds a book called Death Note, which summons a Death god (Willem Dafoe). All Light has to do to kill someone is write their name in the book. There are a bunch of rules surrounding it, which are immediately glossed over. In fact, I think that’s the most disappointing thing about this movie – tons of details are immediately glossed over, just to get back to beautiful scenes of people dying. Light also involves his girlfriend, and in a quick montage, they have created a god responsible for ending/reducing (not quite clear) crime.
Ok, more goes from there, but back to the actual review. The film is really well shot at times. There is a haunting, good things about the Happening scene where a bunch of people die in the same way, and it’s oddly hypnotizing – almost as if it’s daring you to join in the fun. I also enjoyed a lot of the way Ryuk (the death god/Willem Dafoe) was portrayed. He’s a lot of fun, and incredibly impish – but for some reason has a soft spot for apples. There seems to be a lot more to understand about Ryuk, and I’d actually like to know more, so maybe some manga in my future.
The rest of the performances, outside of L (Lakeith Stanfield) who I’ll mention more in a minute, are bonkers bad. Wolff literally made me laugh a couple of times with his acting, particularly in the first scenes with his girlfriend, and the scene where he first meets Ryuk. I can dismiss the scene with Ryuk because it was played a bit for comedic purposes, but it’s not the only example of a performance gone wrong. I didn’t mind Dafoe, but I again didn’t love him here. It almost seems like no one really knew what was going on with the film, and what kind of film they were making. Considering the subject matter, that’s not surprising.
Mr. Stanfield, however, wrings his performance as some type of super detective for all its worth. It was a performance that could have been a Sherlock Holmes rip-off that instead turned into one of the weirdest I’ve seen in a while. It’s almost as if he was attempting to portray a character who stepped right off the panels of a comic – jerkiness to his motions and all. Plus, it’s just really odd – I would love to find out more about his upbringing.
The effects are fairly good. The beginning scene to really hook you on Death Note will have you cringing and immediately comparing it to Final Destination. I’m going to give it a C- overall, just due to its inability to find a tonal balance.
For more on this movie check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"