Film Review – Death Note


qmunistars- 2

“The​ ​human​ ​whose​ ​name​ ​is​ ​written​ ​in​ ​this​ ​note​ ​shall​ ​die.”​ Now​ ​​that​ is​ ​a​ ​fantastic​ ​premise, and ​one​ ​which​ ​has fuelled​ ​multiple​ ​adaptations​ ​of​ ​the iconic​ ​manga​ ​series​ ​​Death Note.​ ​The​ ​latest,​ ​a​ ​Netflix​ ​Original​ ​Film,​ ​has been​ ​accused​ ​of​ ​“whitewashing”​ the original’s ​tale​ of a ​killer​ ​notebook​ ​by​ ​relocating​ ​it​ ​from​ ​Tokyo​ ​to​ ​Seattle​ ​- which​ ​has​ ​only​ ​served​ ​to​ ​prolong​ ​its​ ​notoriety,​ ​as​ ​the​ ​movie​ ​itself​ ​feels​ ​disposable​ ​at​ ​best​ ​and​ ​utterly baffling​ ​at​ ​worst.

You​ ​see,​ ​this​ ​“reimagining”​ ​trades​ ​multiple​ ​heart​ ​attacks​ ​and​ ​psychological​ ​thrills​ ​for​ ​gory​ ​spectacle​ ​and teen​ ​melodrama​ ​-​ ​which​ ​could​ ​easily​ ​be​ ​forgiven​ ​if​ ​its​ ​two​ ​vigilantes,​ ​played​ ​by​ ​Nat​ ​Wolff​ ​and​ ​Margaret Qualley,​ ​had​ ​any​ ​real​ ​depth.​ ​Yet​ ​despite​ ​the​ ​agenda​ ​of​ ​Qualley’s​ ​Mia​ ​Sutton​ ​driving​ ​most​ ​of​ ​the​ ​narrative, her​ ​motivations​ ​aren’t​ ​explored​ ​beyond​ ​a​ ​lust​ ​for​ ​power​ ​and​ ​a​ ​distaste​ ​for​ ​criminals.​ ​But​ ​what’s​ ​truly problematic​ ​is​ ​Wolff’s​ ​Light​ ​Turner;​ ​the​ ​film​ ​repeatedly​ ​avoids​ ​justifying​ ​the​ ​savagery​ ​of​ ​his​ ​killing​ ​spree whilst​ ​bending​ ​over​ ​backwards​ ​to​ ​absolve​ ​him​ ​of​ ​wrongdoing.​ ​Gone​ ​is​ ​the​ ​manga’s​ ​manipulative mastermind,​ ​replaced​ ​by​ ​a​ ​stereotypically​ ​“troubled”​ ​teenager​ ​constantly​ ​strong-armed​ ​into​ ​murder,​ ​either by​ ​his​ ​girlfriend​ ​or​ ​the​ ​notebook’s​ ​accompanying​ ​“death​ ​god”​ ​Ryuk.​ ​This​ ​adds​ ​not​ ​only​ ​to​ ​the​ ​film’s severe​ ​lapses​ ​in​ ​logic​ ​-​ ​which​ ​it​ ​attempts​ ​to​ ​skip​ ​by​ ​with​ ​a​ ​breezy​ ​101​ ​minute​ ​runtime​ ​-​ ​but​ ​also​ ​a​ ​clear disinterest​ ​in​ ​the​ ​moral​ ​ambiguities​ ​which​ ​made​ ​the​ ​original​ ​Light​ ​and​ ​​Death Note​ ​itself​ ​so​ ​compelling.

Truthfully,​ ​beyond​ ​the​ ​occasional​ ​contrived​ ​line​ ​and​ ​a​ ​hilarious​ ​first​ ​encounter​ ​between​ ​Light​ ​and​ ​Willem Dafoe’s​ ​Ryuk,​ ​it’s​ ​difficult​ ​to​ ​find​ ​any​ ​satisfaction​ ​in​ ​this​ ​new​ ​take.​ ​Granted,​ ​Lakeith​ ​Stanfield​ ​puts admirable​ ​effort​ ​into​ ​his​ ​performance​ ​as​ ​fan​ ​favourite​ ​detective​ ​L,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​twists​ ​and​ ​turns​ ​on​ ​the​ ​original story​ ​may​ ​provide​ ​cheap​ ​entertainment​ ​during​ ​initial​ ​viewings.​ ​But​ ​for​ ​newcomers​ ​enticed​ ​by​ ​that fantastic​ ​premise,​ ​Netflix’s​ ​​Death Note ​​offers​ ​little​ ​beyond​ ​mere,​ ​mindless​ ​spectacle.

How​ ​fortunate​ ​then​ ​that​ ​the​ ​superior​ ​anime​ ​adaptation​ ​is​ ​also​ ​available​ ​on​ ​Netflix.

[Dominic Miller]

 

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