Death Note is one of Netflix’s newest releases, hijacking Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s original Japanese manga and scaling it down into a hundred minute snapshot of what could have been.
Although the plot of this hamfisted retelling (directed by Adam Wingard) diverges from the original story, the basic premise is the same: Light Turner (Nat Wolff) comes into possession of said Death Note, a supernatural notebook. Whoever possesses it, has the power to kill anyone by writing down their name while picturing their face. Light is joined in league by fellow student and love-interest Mia (Margaret Qualley), and together they seek to create a crime-free world by purging criminals. However, things become complicated, as they often do, with an investigation into this mysterious killer, lead by an enigmatic detective called L (Keith Stanfield).
However, the sheer scope of the source material proves too vast to be effectively shrunk down into one feature. The manga comics were adapted into a 12 hour television anime, but this film has less than two, and inexplicably adds the well-worn teenage love story at the expense of the much more intriguing Death Note itself. As Light and Mia come to take their power for granted, their plans, and the plot, begin to unravel. So much of the story is left out, and even more gets lost under the breathless pace of the characters ill-guided decision making, chase scenes, and gory deaths. When the film does manage to slow down and ponder on a few good scenes put together, it could have achieved a wonderful neo-noir, Blade Runner-esque detective thriller, blended with a quirky teenage-emo Donnie Darko tribute.
Unfortunately, this mishandled adaption frequently never executes this to such a high standard. It rushes through the story, the characters flick between different decisions and morals in seconds, and it casts aside a treasure trove of minable material. The performances are solid, but the writing is left severely wanting.
Death Note is a good example of why the adage “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” needs to be spelled out to producers with more money than sense: Netflix could never hope to do justice to this famous Japanese tale by watering it down, casting almost all white actors, and adding a sprinkling of cheerleaders and American Football players. Though entertaining in its own right, this film fails to live up to its source material and it becomes an ultimately forgettable version of a classic story.