Director Adam Wingard is very talented, and his technical skill carries “Death Note” through a lot of its narrative weakness. He stylises the movie to an almost nauseating extent (in a good way), drenched in neon, endless dutch angles, pulsing synths, every scene shot so grandly. In the first act, when the film is just enjoying its premise, it all works splendidly.
As more and more rules pile up, the plot gets more and more constricting, and the characters don’t really iterate in interesting ways believably, things sag a lot more. Margaret Qualley, Shea Whigham, and Willam Dafoe’s voice all do great work, but Nat Wolff as the lead is like a black hole trying to suck all the energy and fun out of the movie around him.
I don’t know how much of “L” came down to the writing and how much came down to the performance, but he felt like he was from a different, worse film, and as the film tightened further and further onto him, I lost more and more interest. The premise of the Death Note is so engaging, why bury it under some inane story about child detectives that love lollies and squatting on chairs?
Even when the film does come back to its premise in the third act, it just buries it under endless rules and technicalities, like it’s actively trying to cut off any sense of energy or fun. I’m all for the film coming around and condemning its premise as amoral, or for diving indulgently into the amorality of it, but I don’t like it trying to be both and masking that it doesn’t do either very well through waves and waves of “twists”.
Still, the direction and music is good enough that the film is a fun ride the whole way through. I just hope Wingard’s next project has a better script for him to work from. Two and a half apples, and a burnt page.