Death Note is the best American anime/manga adaptation by a pretty wide margin. That is in no way a back-handed compliment. It’s an involving, stylish, and clever movie with more impressive work from director Adam Wingard.
While the movie’s plot diverges from the anime in some significant ways, its characters and themes stay true to the original series – apart from some changes to make Light and Mia convincing American teenagers.
Nat Wolff, Margaret Qualley, and Shea Whigham all do fine work but Lakeith Stanfield is the true standout as L. Stanfield has quickly become a favorite of mine. He turns in another fascinating and scene stealing performance.
Wingard’s direction is confident as he deftly (for the most part) balances some tricky tone changes. He brings a great sense of mood and suspicion to the movie. And there is a seriously intense and well-shot chase scene in the third act that I went back and watched again when the credits rolled.
There are places Wingard adds some anime like moments of hyper-emotion and while I respect what he was going for, they don’t all quite land. Same goes for a couple of music cues that don’t really fit. Though the song choice that plays over the final sequence is unexpected and pitch-perfect.
I would have appreciated more diversity amongst the cast members but that’s an issue effecting all American films, and doesn’t take away from the strengths of this movie.
I enjoyed this one a great deal, though I don’t revere the original series as much as some. So if you’re a giant fan of the anime, your mileage may vary. As far as I’m concerned, Death Note is another winner from Wingard and I’d definitely recommend giving it a watch.