Death Note 2017 Movie Review

As soon as I began watching this movie, I began finding things I didn’t like. Right away, I had concerns about the casting and writing of the characters.

Hm… This doesn’t seem quite right.

I don’t care about so-called “whitewashing” (something a lot of reviewers have been complaining about), but here, the writers changed the characters utterly for some reason.

In the source material, Light is essentially a parent’s ideal kid, a genius who is highly disciplined, hard-working, and moral. That makes his later descent into murder all the more shocking and tragic, and it also makes it easy to believe he can have a battle of wits with the world’s greatest detective.

By contrast, Light is a smart kid here, but he also appears to be an emo juvenile delinquent who does other people’s homework for money, a hothead who can’t control his feelings or keep things to himself. He’s a stereotypical American kid rather than a stereotypical Japanese honor student, and there’s little evidence of his intelligence or drive besides the fact that he takes money to do other people’s homework. Rather than making a big plan, Light seems to stumble onto his scheme with some help from a girlfriend (to whom he reveals his secret very early in the movie, for some reason).

This version of Light, in short, would never successfully get away with anything, because he doesn’t have the appropriate temperament to plan and execute a scheme successfully.

The girlfriend, by contrast, seemed more competent at first, and she became a bit of a Lady Macbeth as the movie went on. Sadly, before the end of the movie, she revealed that she was fairly reckless and dumb too, just not to the same degree as Light.

The one on the right is a bit more ambitious, but surprisingly almost as dumb.

As a result of the hokey casting and weird teen drama writing (is this movie trying to be “Heathers”?), most of the movie’s early scenes played as comedy, whether intentional or otherwise (mostly otherwise, I think).

L, Watari, and Light’s father were actually sort of okay in terms of the casting, but the writing for all of them was pretty funky. L never showed any brilliant insights as the supposed greatest detective in the world, Watari was mostly portrayed as pretty odd, and Light’s father was… just fine, I guess, but nothing special.

The only piece of really good casting, though, was Ryuk, played by Willem Dafoe. The shinigami’s (god of death) presence here was surprisingly sinister and effective. It was quite different from the Japanese version, but I thought it worked pretty well. Unfortunately, it was literally the only possible improvement on the source material in the entire movie, and Ryuk spends relatively little time of the runtime conversing with our hero.

Freaky demon Ryuk… I like!

Speaking of Ryuk, although he was well portrayed, the writing for Ryuk (essentially as an evil demon who forces Light to keep killing) took moral agency away from Light, who becomes pretty evil in the source material. This rendered Light a boring protagonist, since he was not driven chiefly by his own desires or by the need to react to the antagonist, L, but rather was simply pushed around by Ryuk and his girlfriend.

Overall, the movie turned the unique premise that has become a cultural phenomenon in Japan and elsewhere into a sadly below average teen drama, with poor casting (aside from Ryuk), weak characters, and a plot that doesn’t make any sense at all.

My grade: D+

Find my video review of this movie here: