Death Note (2017)

  • Time: 100 min
  • Genre: Adventure | Crime | Drama
  • Director: Adam Wingard
  • Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Shea Whigham, Margaret Qualley, Willem Dafoe


Light Turner, a bright student, stumbles across a mystical notebook that has the power to kill any person whose name he writes in it. Light decides to launch a secret crusade to rid the streets of criminals. Soon, the student-turned-vigilante finds himself pursued by a famous detective known only by the alias L.


  • (RATING: ☆ out of 5)

    GRADE: D


    IN BRIEF: A splatter fest with some style and no sense at all.

    SYNOPSIS: A supernatural book can kill if your name appears on its pages.

    RUNNING TIME: 1 hrs., 49 mins.

    JIM’S REVIEW: Now playing at select movie theaters while also streaming on Netflix is Adam Wingard’s Death Note, a stylish mess of a movie. Neither venues are fortunate to have distribution rights to this less-than-super supernatural thriller.

    Based on a popular Japanese manga serial, the film loses its Japanese origins and becomes an Americanized tale of two teenagers who fall in love and murder people with the help of a black magic book. Its story has been relocated to Seattle and condensed from 108 chapters into 1 lousy movie. The film is so predictable and unoriginal as it mixes the gimmicks of Donnie Darko with Final Destination to create a film about vigilante terror. The deaths are frequent and grisly as the movie celebrates blood splatter with very little suspense.

    All the stylish direction by Mr. Wingard (and his able cinematographer, David Tattersall) can’t hide the fact that the screenplay by Charles and Vias Parlapanides and Jeremy Slater loses its way very early in the game. The plot races by so quickly and characters change their behaviors without much warning or much sense. The rules set up from the book are quickly explained and forgotten. This all leads to an ending that mystifies and becomes more preposterous and unsatisfying. (Hearing Celine Dion’s The Power of Love on the soundtrack just doesn’t set the right mood for violence, blood, and mayhem.)

    The plot: A leather bound book, entitled Death Note, literally falls from the sky and into the hands of Light Turner (a very bland Nat Wolff). Whoever holds this book has the power to kill anyone in the world by simply writing their names on its pages. Our teenage anti-hero (who may be called Light but is awful dim) is egged on to be an active author in a supernatural Rube Goldberg murder spree by a rather large imposing porcupine demon named Ryuk (voiced by Willem DeFoe). Ryuk, for some reason, has an strong appetite for red delicious apples, which goes unexplained as other characters and their ever-changing motives. Light begins his vigilantism by dispatching a few local bad dudes before going really dark. Soon he shares his tome with his girlfriend, Mia (Margaret Qualley), a bit of a psycho herself, as the lovers kill more and more international criminals. These executions become a global phenomena, known as Kira, and soon law enforcement wants to track down this vigilante crusader. Enter an obsessed chief detective, conveniently named L (Keith Stanfield) to find the culprits at large.

    The cast is uniformly weak, which may be the fault of the meandering script. The fine character actor, Shea Whigham, is wasted in the role of Light’s dad. Mr. Wolff and Ms. Qualley have zero chemistry together. Mr. Stanfield overdoes his odd characters’ many quirks (cloaking his face in turtlenecks and hoodies, unable to sit properly in a chair, shouting his lines to make a point, yet the only point he makes is seriously questioning this supposedly top sleuth’s own sanity.) The beast Ryuk, who takes on a more supporting role in the movie, would have been a perfect villain to be centerstage than merely lurking in the shadows. One simply doesn’t care about the characters or their issues at all.

    Death Note is one of many film ventures that Netflix is producing. After starting off very promisingly in 2015 with one of their first productions, the excellent Beast of No Nation, the quality factor in their film offerings has been in rapid decline with diminishing results. Death Note may be ringing its final death knell to warn moviegoer to stay away from Netflix film productions. Write that name in your book!

    NOTE: Perhaps, Death Note may have been better served as a miniseries of 10 episodes in order to be more detailed in its plot structure…No, on second thought, that would be 10 more hours of needless extreme torture for any filmgoer. Just avoid this one!

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  • “Relax, Light.
    You’re asleep and you’re dreaming of some eight-foot-tall,demon-looking motherfucker.”

    The fact one outsmarted Death was the cause of a lot of trouble in “Final Destination“, resulting in a whole series of victims. Recently I saw “Wish upon” with a Chinese music box falling into the hands of a teenage girl. A music box she used to fulfill certain wishes. Only this wasn’t without consequences and individuals here also died in gruesome circumstances. “Death note” is again a variation on the subject. Here it’s the student Light Turner (Nat Wolff) who gets a mysterious notebook thrown into his lap. Whose name is written in it, is doomed to die. And this notebook is accompanied by Ryuk. A kind of hedgehog-like God of death who passes on the notebook if necessary and ensures that the rules described in the booklet are strictly followed by the owner of the book. Light Turner sees an opportunity to rid the world of unwanted criminals. Praiseworthy and noble, but of course not without consequences. Before Light realizes it, the entire police apparatus is behind the mysterious murderer of scumbags from all over the world.

    Admit it! It sounds promising after reading the storyline. Well, I thought it sounded interesting. An original concept with plenty of possibilities to make it a breathtaking and extremely exciting fantasy story. And actually they largely succeeded in it. Provided you aren’t a fervent fan of the Japanese manga this film is based on. After reading a bit about the subject on the worldwide web, I can imagine that this film version feels somewhat limited compared to the original manga. The original story in that manga is being spread out over 108 chapters and bundled in twelve manga booklets. That’s why this movie seems so chaotic and the story flashes past you in a rush. In retrospect, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea if they had made a series of it. The book “The Hobbit” only has about 200 pages and yet Peter Jackson managed to produce roughly eight hours of film to tell this tiny story. If one extrapolates this to this manga, this would probably result in rougly 100 hours of footage.

    Fortunately I’m a complete nitwit when it comes to Japanese manga and I can judge this film without prejudice. I have amused myself with it. Not only did I find the concept intriguing and at the same time it was frightening how Light has control over someone else’s life, simply by putting a name down in a notebook. You can also expect some bloody scenes (“Final destination“-like) when an unfortunate victim dies. I found Nat Wollf convincing enough as the somewhat timid, bullied student who slowly grows into a merciless avenging angel. His girlfriend Mia (Margaret Qualley) has a fairly limited role and didn’t impress me so much. Ryuk is by far the most interesting character. It’s largely a CGI creation. But thanks to the magnificent voice-over by Willem Dafoe, the entertainment factor of this mythical figure rises swiftly. The most disappointing character was L. (Lakeith Stanfield). A mysterious, young detective who’s just a few steps behind Light. But I’ll always remember him as the masked dude who maintained a peculiar seating position.

    For a moment I was playing with the idea to watch the original manga one day. I think there’s little chance this will ever happen because I dislike series and Asian-oriented cultural objects aren’t quite my sort of thing. But I’m convinced the story will be far better and more intriguing. However, you’ve never seen the original? No harm done if you’d choose to watch this little treat.

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