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“Death Note” (2017) Review

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Netflix has been on a roll with producing its own content lately. It has some hit shows and has expanded into coming out with its own films now. Here’s where “Death Note” steps in.

Before I start to talk about the Netflix film I feel like I should give some background about the source material. “Death Note” is an adaption of the hit Japanese manga and anime series of the same name. From the manga, there has been two spin off novels and three Japanese live action films. There has even been a new 2016 Japanese live action movie and miniseries that continue after the third film. There have been rumors for years now about an American live action movie. The earliest news dates to 2007. This film has basically been 10 years in the making now. The film was originally going to be produced by Warner Brothers and they were in talks with Zac Efron about playing the main character, Light. Several years had passed of basically no news until Warner Brothers had announced that they would be releasing fewer films after ‘Batman v. Superman’ and the project moved over to Netflix. I feel like to properly review this film I have to compare it to the original work in order to make sense. I will score this film on its own merit and not let the manga, anime, or other live action movies sway my rating.

The film starts with some establishing shots of Seattle and a high school to introduce the viewers to two of the films main characters Light Turner (Nat Wollf) and Mia Sutton (Margaret Qualley). Their counter parts in the original series are Light Yagami and Misa Amane respectively. Why they changed Misa’s name I don’t know. Her name is one of the easier names in the series. The reason I call them main characters and not protagonist or antagonists is because that’s up to the viewer and if they seem them as good or bad. During this introduction is when the Death Note literally falls from the sky, and lands right by Light. The only difference with this film and the original work is that in the film this is all outside, but in the manga and anime it is inside and Light just happens to see it fall from the window.  Once Light picks up the note book and heads back inside he and Mia try to stop a guy from bullying a class mate. Light ends up getting knocked out , and then is in the principal’s office because they found other people’s homework in his bag. Obviously this results in Light getting detention. During this time he left alone and decides to flip through the Death Note to see what all it actually is. This leads to the best character in the film, Ryuk (William Defoe). He is a god of death, and the Death Note belongs to him. He is meant to be on nobodies side, but he is the one in the film who convinces Light to kill his first person.

This is also the scene a lot of people point out when they do a review because it perfectly shows just how different Light’s character is in the film. In the source material Light is strong and very intelligent. He is highly intelligent person and is also highly perceptive and great with problem solving. In the film, he is still intelligent, but we don’t really get to see that as much besides the opening scene where he is doing someone else’s work. The scene where he meets Ryuk in the film almost portrays Light as a coward since he lets out a very high pitched scream. Comparing this to his calmer first encounter with Ryuk in the source material where he is expecting Ryuk. It almost sad to see a once great and complex character become this whiny coward. It is also the same with Ryuk. In the original material Ryuk is easily just a bored creature looking for some entertainment. He more comical and is on nobodies side when it comes to the Death Note. He is purely in it for the fun, and of course the apples. I can appreciate the Netflix film wanting to make Ryuk more of mysterious creature, and play a bigger role when it comes to the Death Note. Although for him to play a bigger role, he would have to have been in the film more. He is constantly in the original works, but in the film, he is only seen a handful of times, which is disappointing. William Defoe’s performance as Ryuk was one of the highlights of the film and to see it almost wasted is upsetting. It is also upsetting that we don’t really good any good looks at this death god. He is meant to be a mysterious and scary being, but in order to actual feel that fear we need to see him.  Through the shots that we do see of him in the film we can see his pointy teeth, glowing eyes, and just a few other features. For the team to spend money a good CGI and to not show it off is just a letdown. In the Japanese films, you see Ryuk out there in broad day light with Light and the CGI wasn’t that great. His design was also closer to the original and more cartoon like. I would almost prefer this to having a spooky Ryuk that we hardly see.

After Light’s first killing we see his father and him at home eating dinner. Light’s father, James (Shea Whigham), asks Light about what happened at school and if he knew the kid he was decapitated. This leads to a slight argument between the two and Light leaving the table to go upstairs. Later that night James comes up to Light’s room to apologize and here it is brought up that Light’s mom had been killed.  This is used as motivation for Light’s next killing, where he kills the man who murdered his mother. That is about as much reason we get to why Light wants to get rid of all the people that he deems evil.

In school Mia notices that Light is by himself and takes this chance to talk about what happened the other day with their class mate. This is when Mia notices that Light has this note book and asks what it is. This is when we see yet another chage with Light’s character. In the series, he is very catious about the Death Note and making sure no one gets a hold of it, because if someone did touch it they would see Ryuk. In the film, Light willingly shows Mia the note book and even has her touch it and look through it. This is when we find out that only the handler of the note book can see Ryuk. This gets rid of some of the suspense that is found in the original series because if Light’s family even found the Death Note and saw Ryuk they would instantly know that Light is doing something he shouldn’t be. This was a key plot point in the series and for the film to just throw it away really causes some of the suspense in the film to just go away.

From here the couple begin to kill together and Light is dubbed ‘Kira’ by the public. In the source material they say that he gets this name from the English word ‘Killer’. In this live action movie they try to say it’s the Japanese word for Killer. I’m impressed they did their research about the Japanese language here. Around this time in the film is when we meet L (Keith Stanfield). He is the eccentric, genius who is tasked to solve the Kira Case. He was a child genius and lived in a home for children who are very smart and skilled. L grew up in that home and his real name has been kept a secret in that home. He has a guardian named Watari (Paul Nakauchi ). Watari is like a father figure to L. Throughout the film we see that Watari cares for L, whether it’s by making sure he sleeps, or getting him snacks. One of the things about L that is interesting is that he is always seen eating sweets. In the original work he would eat cakes and other pastries, but in this film he can be seen eating ice cream and candies mostly. In the original work, L also eats ice cream and there is a pretty funny scene involving it, which they did try to recreate in the film which was actually pretty good. L and James turner work hard together to bring down Kira and even use the media to figure out where Kira is located. They do this by saying that they are broadcasting nationwide but are only broadcasting in the Seattle area.

The ending of the film is where the story really goes off the rails and completely crazy. It is nowhere close to what happens in the original story, which I can understand them doing to a certain extent since this is a passion project of the director, and even with the Japanese films they did change the endings.  They ended the film with Light in the hospital and they leave it with a cliff hanger in hopes of making a sequel.

On its own the film is decent enough. It’s gory so if you have a weak stomach I would skip this film, but if you can handle gore it is an alright film. I’d give it a 2.5/ 5 on its own.

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“Death Note” (2017) Review