Ray’s review published on Letterboxd:
Straight up, if you think I’ve fallen off the wagon at this point, I don’t blame you. I don’t know what’s going on any better than you do.
But I thought this was pretty fucking cool too????
Even before this was widely derided I wasn’t excited by the prospect of it. Western adaptations of manga/anime aren’t exactly a sure bet and, while I adore the Guest, I’m not totally on board the Wingard train. But, despite what I would have guessed with almost complete certainty, I’m more on it now than I was before. There’s an extremely edgy quality to this, one that’s been a part of the property all the way back to Shonen Jump as far as I understand it, that Wingard really embraces for the fun of it. The camera probably spends as much time Dutch-tilted here as not, places as well-lit as school gymnasiums are transformed into moody pits of shadow, gore is doled out Final Destination-style with sometimes even mosre gleeful money shots. It’s all in service of a tone, one that’s so heightened and so goofy, but so contiguous in its ostensible darkness. It was a super fine line to walk and I’m baffled to be able to say Wingard did.
It’s good he did, too, that he committed to the edgelordity of this story, because it really wouldn’t possibly work without it. I don’t know how the manga or anime develop these characters or their place in the world, but in this telling this is unmistakably the complete dismantling of the adolescent power fantasy which it’s premise embodies. I almost don’t know how that could be what it originally was, printing in Jump, but it digs so precisely into the core of this conceit, of the idea of meting out justice as judge, jury, and executioner, and the folly of thinking you can control that power, that i likewise can’t imagime any other way this story could be told to a degree. Like I mean there was a hugely popular show over this past decade where a serial killer spent eight seasons going through this dilemma, without the supernatural element, and in less than two hours Wingard et. al. dig twenty times deeper than that ever managed, wring fewer hands.
Ultimately, too, I think a whole whole lot of the credit comes down to the cast for filling in the relationships between them so vividly, because those relationships are where so much of this movie lives. L as the foil to Light is set up super schematically, but Stanfield commits so hard to the bit, especially in the moments when he’s fraying, that the parallel becomes vivid in how far he clearly feels pushed. I remarked to some friends early on that Qualley almost certainly deserved a better movie than this, but being here, she makes the movie to a degree. Wolff needs to be a complete Everyman for a the above paragraph to really work, I think, but Qualley gives their budding romance so much charm just for how charming she is herself, and rots it as she gradually does in kind. Dafoe is completely inspired casting for all of the reasons that casting him as an otherworldly death god would seem to be, the sort of thing even the many people who hate this movie tend to credit it with.
Is it perfect? Obviously not. The big issue, i found, was that in condensing a decently lengthy story into a feature length, they were going to have to give up something, and what they gave up were some of the transitionary moments where these characters have to change the way they’re approaching their situation. The big one that really bugged me was when Light was miserable with the burden of the Death Note, and reached out to L for help; when L rebukes him, though, in the blink of an eye he’s jonesing to learn his real name. They clearly understood, too, that they didn’t have the tools to build that organically and try to just hurry past it. There’s plenty of smaller issues, too, rougher lines and line readings especially.
But as this movie got into its last twenty minutes, everything past the point with the foot chase between L and Light, from the action chops and neon lights of that aforementioned scene, the emotional wringing on the Ferris wheel, the ending which the movie refuses to let us fool ourselves into thinking is a clean getaway despite Light’s belief that he managed it, I realized I don’t just like this movie. I like it quite a good bit. Go figure!