What’s worse than a bad movie? A bad movie that could’ve been good if the people behind it just put a little bit of effort in. Netflix’s new original film Death Note – based on the excellent manga and anime series – just feels like a waste of an idea. Instead of embracing the cleverness of its source material, it instead just tries to be every other thriller film you’ve ever seen.
The film tells the story of Light Turner, a nerdy (and whiny) teenager who stumbles upon a book that can control when people die: the Death Note. After sharing the book with his girlfriend Mia, the two of them decide to use it to rid the world of its worst criminals. However, their actions soon catch the attention of the police – and the rest of the world – and they soon find themselves being hunted down by a mysterious detective known only as L.
On paper it doesn’t sound too bad, but the writers do an incredible job of messing things up. Like I said, Death Note does a good job of substituting all of the source material’s cleverness for every dumb thriller movie cliché you can think of. The central tension between Light and L is put on the back-burner for a snooze-worthy romance between Light and Mia, and the second half of the film is filled with lame overly long chase sequences and dumb action set pieces (we totally haven’t seen a Ferris wheel fall apart before). Light, as the film’s lead, is also laughably stupid. He doesn’t work as a hero or an anti-hero, being too whiny and irritating to root for or root against. Nat Wolff’s acting (which is absolutely dire) doesn’t help things either.
The other characters don’t fare much better either. Mia, like Light, is incredibly bland and unlikable, never really feeling that necessary to the plot. The character of L similarly seems to have lost all his cleverness from the manga, though I will give props to Lakeith Stanfield who really does seem to try his best with the poor writing. Ryuk is the only character that feels both well-written and well-acted – Willem Dafoe is perfectly cast in the role – but he only gets a small amount of screen-time.
The other major issue I have with Death Note is the pacing. The film just feels so bloated. There’s too much going on and there’s no time for characters to react to one development before the next one comes along. It feels like the writers were just trying to barrel through as many moments from the manga as possible (while also throwing in their own stuff, like the Mia romance). It’s mainly because of this focus on stuffing as much plot as possible into the film’s 100 minutes that the characters feel so undeveloped… The writers never give them time to grow into anything interesting.
Again, it just feels like a wasted opportunity. Considering that the rumours about this film started popping up almost a decade ago, Netflix’s Death Note feels like a massive anti-climax. There’s definitely potential for a great Hollywood adaption of the franchise, but this isn’t it. And who knows how long we’ll have to wait until someone tries again.