Tuesday, January 12, 2010

DeathNote (2006) review

Overall verdict: 5.5/10

The Good: genuinely suspenseful, contains many thought provoking social themes, fresh unique concept

The Bad: irregular pacing, inconsistent acting, unlikable characters, cheesy script

Current Availability Status: on DVD at discounted price at Poh Kim outlets
DVD features:
- Director's interview
- deleted scenes
- behind the scenes featurette
I have not read the original manga or watched the anime before viewing this movie, so i would not know how faithful it was was to the source material.

All things considered, DeathNote has its fair share of ups and downs. Based on the hit manga series "Deathnote", the story's premise sounds like a definite hooker. An intelligent but disillusioned university student, Light Yagami, one day finds "the Deathnote". Any person whose name is written inside the book would die. Along with his new pal, the "shinigami" known as Ryuk, Light uses the Deathnote to kill off suspected criminals one by one. The authorities are baffled by the strange deaths but nonetheless attempt to track down the mysterious killer whom they term "Kira"(I'm betting this is a mispronunciation of "Killer"). As the body count increases, the police enlists the help of a quirky young genius named "L", thus setting up a battle of wits between the two young men.

While the plot may have sounded good on paper, it does not seem to translate well to screen. Special complements must go to the director for managing to maintain a constant air of suspense throughout the entire movie and for trying to incorporate a number of interesting themes such as the social subjectivity of good and evil, the role of morality in justice, and the question of fate and determinism within the metaphor of a book that predicts one's actions leading to one's death. Sadly, those two great aspects of this film suffers from some very disappointing execution. Those underlying themes that were mentioned tend to "pop in" here and there in the form of dialog rather than actually being blended into the ongoing story; they feel rather detached from the narrative as if the writers reluctantly inserted those scenes of philosophical rhetoric as an afterthought.

Suspense is always a good thing to have, especially in the case of DeathNote. In the absence of said suspense, this movie would serve a purpose very similar to a bedtime lullaby. Many scenes are plain boring and the whole movie just drags its feet through its unnecessarily convoluted plot with only one single, and grudgingly played out, action sequence. A shorter running time plus a meatier script and plot would have aided this plodding production or perhaps if it was broadcast as a TV miniseries, since it already looks like one thanks to cheap production values.

DeathNote's irregular pace is NOT helped by some of the least likable main characters ever encountered in a movie. The main character of Light Yagami came across as very unnatural in both his mannerisms and his interactions with people. One moment he seems to be a normal fun loving university student and another moment he is a delusional despot with ambitions to be the "God of the New World". Unless he had split personality disorder, such a thing can only be boiled down to inconsistent characterization either on the part of the script or the actor . The rest of the cast is uninteresting at best, many being your usual Japanese cop drama stock characters. Only the character of L seemed to "stand out" but he does not come into play until halfway through this boring show. And when he does, we do not get much insight into his motivations or his character. He is just there to give Light Yagami a "rival" of sorts.

Despite its many flaws, DeathNote manages to captivate with its suspense and numerous clever twists. A huge pity since it means that after you have watched it once, this movie has practically ZERO replay value; you already know the plot twists, and that effectively negates any form of suspense to be had.

A real pity about the final product since Deathnote had so much potential to become an avant garde, thought provoking social commentary film which dives deep into philosophical issues that permeate today's crime stricken society. Instead it remains on the edge of the proverbial pool, never daring to dive into its deeper aspects, hence leaving this movie merely floating on the surface of mediocrity.

***************Review End**************

Go For it: if you are an avid fan of the manga or anime and would thrill to see your favorite characters in live action.
Avoid it: if you already know the story, if you intend to watch this more than once and if you prefer something with a little more action to accompany the conversations.

Entertainment: C

Story: B-

Characters: C
Replay value: D-
"Brains": A-

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