Movie Review: Death Note

Image result for death note netflix movie poster free use“Shall we begin?”

I need to watch more anime. It offers a lot to film as an art form, in terms of cinematography, character design and visual depiction. It is its own genre and we have many Japanese innovators to thank for it.

Death Note is an anime I am now interested in watching, not because of Netflix’s Death Note, but in spite of it, because the two are not one in the same.

The film has some going for it. For example, all of the original material that it’s based on, of which it holds zero responsibility for, is compelling, offering deadly deeds, moral dilemmas and a seemingly playful but actually cunning death god. Imagine what carnage and creation can be formed with a few names on a piece of paper from a book that kills people. All you have to do is write a name down and poof, gone. Look at the sludge. Visualize the products of one’s ambition.

There’s a lot of narrative promise here and a wide variation of thematic content. There’s a chimerical quintessence present. There’s a vicarious lust here. There’s….. a lot going on.

Netflix’s Death Note doesn’t. Not really. It’s actually rather amorphous.

We have a lead character that’s shortchanged both by actor Nat Wolff and the script. He’s portrayed as a punk, actually, an immature teenager with family troubles who’s screaming for freedom and independence. A bit conventional.

The book falls out of the sky and once the rules are explained, he decides to write the school bully’s name first. A bit conventional.

Once discovering his new power, he finds the attractive girl he’s been trying to date and immediately tells said girl about a book that can kill people. Lazily conventional. It loses a lot of tension due to this and once again, chooses a romantic subplot over a story that carries far more gravity.

In any story, the strongest portion should be saved for the conclusion but here, one of the strongest scenes comes at the beginning with the introduction of Ryuk, voiced by Willem Dafoe.

You can never have too much Willem Dafoe, nor does it ever feel bad to have him around, as is once again the case here. Ryuk is the death god, the man behind the book. The book that makes one think of ambition is actually one full of artifice, one composed of madness, but Ryuk, in his calm and yet clearly unsafe demeanor, lures our hero in like a spider and its web. This seductiveness is alluring and while you know something’s up, as I’m sure Light does here, you can’t help but wanna try it, right?

Possibility is a strong motivator, and we get to see the primal instincts of humanity through this device. We get to see what it truly feels like to be all-powerful. It is a Greek tragedy with the stylus of a Japanese artist, or at least that’s what the anime is.

This supposed love interest ends up chewing up more than she has any right to consume, clearing her plate and then Dafoe’s and then some of Light’s before all is said and done. Mia, this girl, is a sociopath, the more interesting character, the person capable of bringing the carnage and vileness of the Death Note to its full potential, making Light’s presence unwarranted. We have two main characters fighting for possession of both the Death Note and the camera, and Ryuk, who should be playing the role of the puppeteer above, is instead sitting on the couch throwing back apple cores, enjoying the festivities, a complete misuse of the character’s time and actor’s talent.

Something about adaptations tells me there is no girl in the anime. Something tells me this is another Hollywood attempt at Americanizing material. That something is memory.

I’ve seen it too often, slogged through it many a time, written about it here and there. Who would think it was so pervasive in our film industry? And look, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is in the anime, but it’s so divisive and corrosive to what is initially planted in the framework that it definitely does not belong in this film.

Another crucial part of the movie, when Light realizes the difference he can make with the Death Note, is put into a montage, a stylistic atrocity. A centerpiece of the film and you’re speeding through it rather than stretching it out? It’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off for ’em.

It doesn’t. It’s nerve-grating. Some of Adam Wingard’s decision-making here in the story’s fabric don’t mesh with the elements illustrated. There’s also not a high enough premium paid to the patterns and peculiarities of the anime design, leaving the material distanced from its maker.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Captain America: Civil WarDeadpoolAvengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe Babadook)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (SinisterOlympus Has FallenThe Cable GuyThe Cabin in the WoodsTears of the Sun)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Ip Man 2Ip ManKong: Skull IslandThe InvitationHush)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Doctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason BourneSuicide SquadBatman Forever)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (True Memoirs of an International AssassinThe Great WallRobin HoodUnderworldThe Do-Over)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower RangersUnderworld: EvolutionBatman & RobinBloodsport)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Most Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of AngelsCenturionPlanet of the Apes)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (Avalanche SharksCatwomanThe GunmanThe VisitThe Fantastic Four)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcastSabotage)

My score for Death Note: 59.

All in all, I enjoyed this at points for the content it presents, not for how it adapts it. If you know nothing of the anime, as I did, watch it, get heated, and then bathe in the glory that the anime provides. It’s quite good.

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