Review — Death Note (2017)

Alright, here’s the rundown of Netflix’s original live action adaptation of Death Note. Overall, I thought it was good. Not amazing, by any means, but long story short, the problems I had didn’t involve the actors, the character choices (well…), or any of the obvious changes they made to the original story. My biggest problem was the plot holes.

But before we get into that, let’s talk about something first. Obviously, comparing any movie adaptation to whatever it was based on is going to be bad for one of them, which ostensibly means that, of course, “the book is always better”. But that really isn’t fair, because the book will have several hours more than the movie will to establish everything, and to be blunt, there is more going on in movies. More people involved. I think that, and a number of other reasons, makes changing the original story to fit two hours forgivable.

I think Death Note did a good job with what it had to work with. The opening shot made sense, and was cheesy. A book falls out of a sky, and the protagonist is confused. He looks up to figure out where it came from, but it starts raining really hard really fast, so he takes it with him as he gets out of the rain. Curiosity is the primary reason he takes it at first, and it isn’t forced or cheesy. Plus, the sudden rain shows the unnatural power involved with this thing, and as a bonus it does a great job setting the tone of the movie.

That said, the progression of everything that happens makes a lot of sense. The thing I liked about the anime was that a lot of the time, Light was clever and did things I never would have thought of to hide his identity, so it was even more impressive when L narrowed it down eventually anyway. I really didn’t get the sense that Light was brilliant in this movie, though. I know I just said comparing it to the original is bad, but hear me out. The wit involved in both characters actions and interactions was what made the anime for me. If this was just some shmuck with the power to kill people I wouldn’t be interested because I wouldn’t believe that he would avoid being caught. But Light isn’t that clever in this movie. He’s not (that) stupid, mind you, but he’s no genius. So it makes it a little annoying when L doesn’t figure it out right away. Obviously, they have to fill the two hours, but I’m watching this for character brilliance, damn it!

(Minor spoilers here: Specifically, L publically threatens Kira and, when he doesn’t die, deduces that Kira must need a name and a face in order to kill. The problem is, this is speculation, not proof. He claims that if Kira could have killed him, he would have, but then, he also knows Kira is human. Humans are petty, so it could simply be that Kira is arrogant and wants to see how competent a detective L is. The fact that L doesn’t consider this as a possibility is, frankly, a little odd.)

Another great thing that the movie does is that it plays with the “rules” of the magic of the notebook, and does it in a way that makes sense. They aren’t hard to grasp onto once the audience is shown that it can work, so when things go wrong because rules are twisted in ways you didn’t expect, you have to give them credit.

A few times, though, it bent the rules without explaining. There was a time that Light wrote a condition describing how somebody would die if they took an action. As far as we know, though, writing the name in the book kills them. There is no “if” about it. The movie doesn’t confirm one way or another how this works exactly, so it seems weird. Another time was when Light threatened to write the name of his death god, Ryuk, in the book to kill him. Ryuk basically says, “Good luck. The furthest anyone has gotten is two letters.” Except in an earlier scene, the book has some notes in it that says “Don’t trust Ryuk. He’s not your friend.” Sounds like his full name has already been written in the book, so how is he not dead? Is there some rule that you have to have deadly intent when you write their name? Because that’s not established in the movie.

All in all, it’s a solid movie. It has some good scenes (the one where Ryuk is introduced is very well done), and the story is really dramatic, as you might expect. Also not surprisingly, it’s very graphic. Also, this one is certainly way better than the other live action Death Note, of which I remember nothing about. I consider that a blessing.

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