brando’s review published on Letterboxd:
in my review for Christine, i had this idea of a modernized version where a car finds an incel who goes on an Eliot Rodgers power trip. Death Note is literally just that except instead of modernizing, it flawlessly recontextualizes the text of its source material from Japanese sensibilities/commentary to American.
it's a towering achievement of adaptation, riffing off what made the original manga/anime so great but also standing on its own as a satiric reflection of American imperialism and its uneasy dance with the noble pinings of American exceptionalism.
Light and Mia embody these two sides of the same coin. both start out as extra-judicial executioners in the name of justice before the absolute power and contradictory interests of justice vs. self-preservation consume them both.
both are painted in a sympathetic light until the rug is pulled out from under the audience as we realize neither of them deserved sympathy in the slightest: Mia has always been a vindictive and conniving femme fatale, Light has always been a pathetic weasel of a human being intent on saving face and fluffing up his ego as a hero.
it's an excellent departure from the source material of the manga, which makes all too much sense when considering the manga thematically criticizes the Japanese judicial system whereas this film takes on the larger, more nebulous issue of American interventionist policy in the post-modern era.
Wingard delivers all of this with engaging style, exchanging the more operatic, over the top tone of the original anime with a more neon-drenched, 80s aesthetic. his editing and cinematography, however, are just as over the top, seamlessly flitting between scenes and character beats, the camera helmed with a confident flair, and the casting is perfect on all accounts (Willem Dafoe as Ryuk is absolutely PERFECT).
the best part of Wingard's direction is how all the deeper insight into the characters and themes are almost all conveyed visually or through the excellent performances. none of the characters feel fake or disingenuous, with L and Light obviously taking the show.
Death Note just effortlessly toes the lines between hammy satire, serious socio-political commentary, and in-depth character study, juggling fun Final Destination-style gory kills with poignant character beats and slick synth-addled setpieces.
for all its fun and deeper themes, it all comes back to Light and Mia, two pathetic mislead teenagers whose ambitions and delusions of grandeur culminate in an absolutely sublime final 20 minutes that has some of the most perfect soundtrack choices i've ever seen (best use of Chicago and Air Supply in the history of cinema).
through Mia and Light, we see that nobody, even those with powers of God and the flimsy justification to back up their actions, can have their cake and eat it too.