RedLetterMedia’s Jay Bauman recently tweeted that Death Note is “definitely at its best when cool music was playing and nobody was talking”, and I’m inclined to agree. Death Note has an interesting premise, and perhaps the worst first twenty minutes to a movie I ended up liking. It’s hard to fully recommend the film as a “good film”, but all things considered, the film plays an interesting game with its characters and delivers an enjoyable, and occasionally unintentionally hilarious, fantasy flick.
Light Turner (Nat Wolff) is a teenage loser, struggling with a difficult relationship with his police captain father (Shea Whigham). Light has a strange encounter with the death god Ryuk (Willem Dafoe), who reveals to him the Death Note, a book that gives him the power to kill anyone in the world, prompting Light to serve out his own form of vigilante justice. Wolff isn’t neccessarily miscast here, but the character isn’t particularly well-written, and for all the film’s failures, the relationship between Light and his girlfriend (Margaret Qualley) is the most glaring.
While the two leads are mostly bland, the film benefits from it’s abundance of strong character actors. Dafoe is gloriously hammy as Ryuk, and Whigham brings a great gravitas to the role of Light’s father, but the film’s standout is Lakeith Stanfield as L, a mysterious detective tracking the Death Note. Cast aside, director Adam Winguard is the film’s real star; Winguard’s fusion of creepy atmosphere, striking visuals, and an overabundance of ’80s soft rock are what make the film standout.
At the end of Death Note, Nat Wolff falls off of a ferris wheel in slow motion while “I Don’t Want to Live without Your Love” plays in the background. That alone should condone a recommendation of this film; I’m not sure if this is a “so bad it’s good” or simply a technically competent film with two boring leads, but I’m inclined to recommend Death Note, for better or worse. Grade: B-