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Netflix continues to branch out with “Death Note”

There’s a notable difference between the types of projects that Amazon and Netflix have been putting out, theatrically speaking. On the one hand, Amazon has been gunning for awards and embracing a theatrical release with things like the Oscar winner Manchester by the Sea. There’s also their burgeoning relationship with an auteur like Woody Allen. It’s a whole concerted effort under their Amazon Studios wing. On the other hand, Netflix has gone for casting a wider net, while only occasionally putting their higher profile films out in theaters, like Beasts of No Nation or this year’s Okja. They only once in a while look at things with an awards type view. So far, they’ve either come up short with would be players like War Machine, or seen things like Beasts of No Nation snubbed. This week, Death Note hits as the latest major Netflix release. It won’t be gunning for Academy attention, but it’s a high profile flick. Too bad it’s nowhere near as good as it should have been.

This movie is an adaptation of the Japanese manga of the same name. It follows bullied student Light Turner (Nat Wolff), who comes into possession of a strange and powerful notebook, one with the power to end life. Essentially, any name he writes in the book will be killed. There are a ton of rules, only some of which he pays attention to. As Light begins waging a crusade against those he finds to be evil, a secret society dispatches L (Lakeith Stanfield) to find out who is behind the deaths and to stop it. As cool as it sounds, I’m sure the original handled it better. Adam Wingard directs a script from the team of Charley Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides, and Jeremy Slater. The supporting cast includes Willem Dafoe, Paul Nakauchi, Masi Oka, Margaret Qualley, Shea Whigham, and more. Atticus Ross contributes the score, along with Leopold Ross, while cinematography is by David Tattersall.

Honestly, this film is a real mess. There’s a ton of potential here, talent in front of and behind the camera, but so little of it fully works. The performances are too broad, the tone wavers constantly, and there’s no effort to really make anything truly fit. I fully believe that the talented Wingard and company are fans of the product, but in remaking this for American audiences, much was lost. There’s nothing here to suggest why this was such an interesting project. It’s a shame, really. This could have been something just wild and audacious. Instead, it’s little more than just a disappointment.

Going forward, Netflix should continue to try and acquire interesting material like this. They just need to figure out a way to make the final products better. Then, they should focus on actually giving them theatrical releases. When they have efforts that are worthy of awards and nominations, that won’t likely happen until voters see them actually trying in that regard. The movies will do some of the work, but Netflix needs to do more than just throw money at the campaigns. As much as they probably won’t like hearing it, looking to Amazon and Amazon Studios will do them a great deal of good.

Starting on Friday, audiences have multiple options when it comes to potentially viewing Death Note. Fans of the original could be driven by curiosity, though this is almost undoubtedly an inferior version. Likewise, fans of Wingard who might have initially felt that this was right up his alley will find themselves at least a little bit let down by the final product. Still, if you have a Netflix account, it’ll be right there for you in a few days. It certainly isn’t worth heading out to theaters to see, but right at home? Then, the choice is yours. Act as you see fit here…

If you’re interested, check out Death Note this weekend, in theaters and streaming on Netflix!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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