I just finished watching the Death Note movie that everyone has been talking about. I’ll say this right off the bat, if you’re a huge fan of the original series or the manga, don’t watch this. You’ll be upset, angry and frustrated. If you’ve never heard of the Death Note series then you might enjoy this. It’s not the best movie ever, but it’s not the worst either.
The basic premise is this. A high school kid finds a notebook one day. He learns if he writes someone’s name in it, that person dies. You have to specify how they die and be able to picture their face. Suffice to say this could cause a lot of trouble in the wrong hands. Whether those hands belong to Light is up to you.
The acting is good. L was great, sure he’s a bit too emotional towards the end, but his mentor was just murdered, I’d be upset too. Light was decent but whoever wrote his character screwed up. I get what they were going for (show him evolving into a killer.) Light isn’t an instant genius like in the anime, but he’s such a coward it’s pathetic. By the end of the movie he’s more cold blooded killer, but he doesn’t get there until the last scene in the hospital bed.
William Dafoe as Ryuk was awesome. He’s always been good at playing villains and this role is no exception. He even eats apples like he does in the anime and it’s a great way to foreshadow him being onscreen. Mia is also decent, she doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but that’s okay. At least here she gets to be an actual character, instead of some whiny girl whose existence baffled me in the anime. She’s sweet, calculating and I found myself rooting for her at the end of the movie.
The rest of the cast is okay. I wasn’t expecting much from anyone else except maybe Light’s dad. He was decent, but I didn’t care about him enough to be worried when his life was in danger. That’s the thing about Death Note, you’re only supposed to be interested in Light and L; you don’t need to care about the other characters. That’s something that’s always bugged me.
This leads me to the elephant in the room that everyone has already talked to about. Is this a good Death Note movie? Short answer, no. If you didn’t get that impression from the first paragraph then I can’t help you. Since everyone in the anime community (even some outside of it) have said everything I would have, I’m not going to brother rehashing things.
I know you’re saying but I’ve never heard of Death Note/I don’t watch anime or read manga/I’m too lazy to look up reviews online. This brings me to my second point, is this a good horror or psychological thriller? Short answer is kind of. It’s really all about your expectations going in. I went into this with no expectations of it being a good adaptation of the anime. I’d heard from some youtubers I follow (shoutout to akidearest and the Anime Man) that it’s not so bad otherwise.
This raises an interesting question. Is it okay to take a core idea from something (in this case an anime and manga series) and make it your own? I think it’s fine as long as it’s done well. Inception is a good example. Nolan looked at something like Paprika (and probably other stuff) and said, hey let’s do this but a live action version. Had he stopped there we would all hate the movie. Luckily he didn’t, instead he came up with his own story, his own twist ending, hired good actors and most importantly, it was well written.
It’s that last point that can really screw up any project. I think that’s the case in Death Note. The acting was decent and I liked how they fleshed out Mia. But the characterization of Light was this movie’s downfall. In the anime Light is a genius who thinks he’s so clever because he can outsmart anyone, even L. In this movie the progression is more natural and I liked that. He does become the Light from the anime towards the end. He has no qualms about killing all those people and he seems to scare his own dad. But was that intentional or accidental? It’s really hard to tell.
I kinda hate movies like this because you can’t really recommend them. But you can’t say they’re super terrible either (though many people would disagree with that point.) My knee jerk reaction is that it’s okay. The acting is good but the way Light acted made me roll my eyes. I even said, “Wow, this is not Light.” while I was watching it. L was really good, and Ryuk stole the show. Mia was a much better character here than in the anime and I didn’t mind that her character arc was predictable. The story was decent and I found myself getting into the cat and mouse game by the end.
The best thing I can say about this movie is it’s not bad. It’s an interesting concept that could have been done well. Instead we get an interesting concept done somewhat poorly. If you’ve read this review you know why. It works well enough as a somewhat gory psychological thriller. The acting is good, the writing is bad but I’ve seen worse, and the story is okay. Like I said in the beginning, if you’re a fan of Death Note, don’t watch this; unless you want to cringe and laugh at it. If you want something to do on a rainy day than it’s fine. It stands well enough on it’s own but I can’t say I’d recommend it.