Death Note


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Death Note is about a teenage guy who comes into possession of a magic jotter that causes people to die if you write their name in it. Together he and the snarky demon monster who acts as custodian of the book set about violently fighting injustice around the world without even leaving Seattle. Needless to say it’s all fun and games until the wrong person gets hurt.

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Death Note is not a very good film which is a shame because I’ve heard it is a very good TV show. Netflix have taken the successful and lengthy Japanese Anime series, itself based a large number of successful manga books, and turned it into a single unsuccessful 100 minute movie. There is actually already a trilogy of Japanese live action versions as well.  Watching it you feel they could have done something so much better with this story which makes it all a little pointless when somebody else apparently already has, three times. I’ve not seen the show or read the comics but it’s kind of frustrating because now I’m unlikely to. I’ve learnt too much of what happens. My advice is to watch the TV series because I can see that something great can be done with this concept. There you go, I’ve taken a bullet for all of you on this one so go ahead and boxset to your heart’s content. Let me know how it goes.

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Oddly this Death Note film seems both stretched out and rushed. It clearly has lots of ideas to play with but it doesn’t really know how to do anything surprising with any of them and in the ends seems to be trying to tick off every old cliche it can. This is the kind of film where lightening strikes when something portentous happens and in the denouement someone actually says the line; “It was you… all along”. There is even one initially good character who is, and I quote, one of a group of ‘orphans raised from childhood to be the greatest detectives the world had ever seen’. (To be fair the source material is probably responsible for that one but this movie doesn’t earn the ability to get away with it.)

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The thing is I think director Adam Wingard is doing it on purpose. If you’ve seen any of his other work you’ll know that he is familiar with filmic conventions and likes to use this in clever and humorous ways. He knows a lot of what he is putting in is cliched and is able to use this to play with the audience and their expectations. It worked brilliantly in his film The Guest but here I don’t think it is landing like he wants it to. 

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Part of the problem is that his cast aren’t really selling it. Shea Whigham and Willem Dafoe are in on the joke but the younger cast, who carry the film, don’t quite nail the tone. The lead character is called Light Turner but the light isn’t really on. I like Nat Wolff, he was good in Paper Towns and The Fault in our Stars, but he doesn’t have the right charisma here. He is a light version of Christian Slater’s character from Heathers but that is the only way in which I can think his first name, a hang over from the source material, works in this context. He’s one of those cool, good looking nerds that only exist in movies.

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The pacing of the film is off too. At the start it is racing toward its first grizzly kill but there is no build up so the pay off doesn’t work. The spook has turned up before the ink is dry on the opening credits (think Nosferatu meets Sonic the Hedgehog) to jarringly mixed reactions from the ‘hero’ and pretty soon a thinly written character who only exists to get killed in the first ten minutes has totally lost his head. The script actually forgets about him later when it is talking about who the first victim was.

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Death Note is the kind of film where high school kids turn psycho in the blink of an eye and people suffer graphic and bloody deaths but none of the pretty teens go splat even though the bad guys come apart like dandelion clocks. It is all just desperately under developed. It is also literally unfinished, presumably to leave things open for a sequel that I am sure will never come.

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Still, enjoy the show.

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Is this one for the kids?
Only those kids that are over 18 if the certification is to be obeyed.

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The Ripley Factor:
Okay. The film is set in and around a mixed gender school and there only one named female character in the whole thing. She is a main character, she is strong and she isn’t objectified but she is also punished for her transgressions in a way her male counterparts are not. One of the things that has died here after being jotted down in a note book somewhere is twenty five years of progressive depictions of women in film.

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