Reviewed by Rohan Angus and James Reilly
Rohan Angus – Student Pages Journalist
Open-mindedness. The problem with remaking near-worshipped originals is that people are not receptive of new ideas – often sitting in front of their screens arms-crossed before the first line of dialogue reaches their ears. It was obvious to me that the 2017 American remake would receive a bashing from critics, all regurgitating the same concept that the adaptation wasn’t ‘true’ to the original. Knowing the bruising was forthcoming, I decided to watch Adam Wingard’s stylish take before sitting through the Japanese original series.
‘Death Note’ relocates to the ‘Emerald City’ of Seattle where anti-heroine Light Turner (Nat Wolf, ‘The Fault in Our Stars’) resides. The discovery of a sinister book empowers Light, of which the ideology is simple – whoever’s name is inscribed into the pages shall die. Light begins his murderous crusade in a New York minute, barbarically disposing the world of whom he sees unfit for life, which soon catches the attention of renowned detective ‘L’ (Lakeith Stanfield, ‘Get Out’).
The greatest aspect of the film was ‘Ryuk’ who, unfortunately for the cast, stole every scene. The demon expresses himself as a death-god, and he passes on the book to whom he deems worthy. However, it can be argued that the quality of this character, powered by the rasping voice of Willem Defoe, overshadowed the cast, and made them forgettable. The other performance I appreciated was that of up-and-coming Lakeith Stanfield who played the mysterious ‘L’, driven to expose ‘Light’ for the serial killer he is becoming on his path to transform the world. Although over-the-top at times, Stanfield did a better rendition of his role than of his co-star Nat Wolf whose goofy expressions often smudged intense or meaningful scenes – such as the introduction of the masterful ‘Ryuk’.
Bar the weak lead, the only other issue I have with the adaptation of the manga classic is that there is no real background to ‘L’, who from my understanding plays a major role in the original series. It seems like a rushed attempt to explain his reserved behaviour as well as his strong relationship with ‘Watari’, his handler. There are certainly intriguing aspects that I would love to see fleshed out in a sequel, to which the door is left open-wide for.
‘Death Note’ successfully strings together a Japanese horror phenomenon with Wingard’s unique direction to bring us a fresh Americanised adaptation. Although this rendition would be significantly unmemorable without the perfect combination of Defoe and ‘Ryuk’. The R-rated stylish horror deserves more credit than it will receive, and I for one would welcome an unlikely sequel.
James Reilly – Student Pages Entertainment Journalist/Film Critic
The film rating above is 3 stars. That is very, VERY generous. This film is about a 2 and a half stars, but I think it’s too harsh to round down to a 2 so I rounded up. This is because the film is not very good. It has good moments, good ideas and good scenes – but it all amounts to not a lot. Adam Wingard is a very accomplished director, and despite having some recent misses (this included) I am still a huge fan. You can definitely tell this film is his, the style is overflowing, however its the substance of the story and characters that let it down.
I am not a fan of the anime. Not because its bad, but because I have not watched it. I’ve seen one episode and while good, I just never got around to finishing it. However speaking to my friend who has watched and enjoyed the anime he straight off says its an insult to the characters. Without even knowing the characters, I agree. Light is a tool. He is useless, pathetic and annoying. Mia is not much better. While she is the more engaging of the two characters, she is so cookie-cutter and generic its like she was written by an amateur. L is like Sheldon Cooper if Sheldon Cooper took acid and wore a hoodie. Ryuk was menacing, cool but his face? What poor CGI excuse was that?
The concept is very engaging, a book falls from the sky (the Death Note) and whoever’s name that is written in it (and how they die) will then die. Interesting premise given well written characters, however they are not on display here. There are some cringe inducing moments with the character of Light which made me not just roll my eyes, but audibly exclaim in anger.
The film however looks and sounds beautiful which is to be expected considering this is a Wingard film. The cinematography is beautiful with the lights and neon effects really lending itself to the world that is created, but the characters that inhabit the world are just so painful and dumb that its enraging. The only good thing was the occasional piece of gore in the film, but even then it felt so forced that I couldn’t help but not even react to it.
Overall if you are a fan of the anime, stay away – this will not please you at all in the slightest. If you’re like me, start with the anime – you will get more entertainment, engage characters and benefits.
Follow James at @JamesisGinger