Movie Review: ‘The Living Daylights’ (50 Years of Bond)
Cast: Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Jeroen Krabbe, Joe Don Baker, John Rhys-Davies, Art Malik, Robert Brown, Desmond Llewellyn
Plot: Bond is sent to protect Koskov, a Russian agent looking to defect to the West. While on the task Bond is ordered to eliminate a sniper who he recognizes as a cello player he’d seen earlier in the night. Bond opts to disarm her rather than kill, turning her into an ally when Koskov is captured by the KGB and Bond heads off in pursuit.
Review: So we enter a new yet short lived era of Bond – Timothy Dalton. Dalton is rarely placed at the top of ‘Favorite 007’ lists, yet you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who actively dislikes him in the role. The Roger Moore films had gotten to point where they were more goofy than thrilling and the series needed re-invigoration following the dire efforts of Octopussy and A View to a Kill. Enter Dalton and The Living Daylights, a darker, grittier and bloodier take on the franchise.
The new approach certainly has a lot going for it. Less gimmicks and gadgets in favour of more conspiracy and down-to-Earth spy work. Dalton is tough and brutal as Bond and he has enemies to match, competing against arms dealers and KGB agents instead of megalomaniacs. Whilst this has worked wonder in the Daniel Craig era the approach failed to catch on with Dalton. One thing that separates Dalton out from Craig, Connery and company is that he’s kinda mean. Even when Craig was caught up is gritty and bloody situations he usually looked as though he was having some fun – and that’s what the Bond movies have always been about. Dalton’s Bond doesn’t look like someone who knows how to spell ‘fun’. Sometimes it’s downright shocking, such as roughly ripping off a girls clothing so a guard would be distracted. Seriously Bond, that’s uncalled for.
The Living Daylights begins with a training exercise involving the Double-Oh agents being infiltrated by an assassin. It’s an inventive start to the movie and a great introduction to the new Bond, proving immediately that this is going to be a more realistic adventure with higher stakes. Dalton gets plenty of opportunity to prove himself in the role, busting out some action moves before smoothly moving into seduction mode. When the mission of the day takes off it sets the tone of political intrigue with Bond tasked with protecting a defecting Russian agent. While taking up position as a sniper Bond spots a cello player he’d noted at the orchestra working as an assassin. He deduces that she’s not really a member of the KGB and opts to disarm her instead of killing her, against orders.
After smuggling the Koskov, the defector, through the Trans-Siberian pipeline (another imaginative sequence) he informs MI6 that the new head of the KGB General Pushkin has restarted the ‘Death to Spies’ (or Smert Spionam) policy from the Cold War, which seems to be confirmed with Koskov is abducted by a deadly KGB agent who infiltrates the safe house and abducts him. Bond is dispatched to eliminate Pushkin before any other spies are taken down but finds his loyalties and instincts put to the test when he learns of a wider conspiracy involving an American arms dealer, opium smuggling and the cellist who has been forced to act as a patsy.
With the exception of the antics of KGB agents and the Cold War hangover The Living Daylights still holds up well today. The grittier approach to the material and the conspiracy forming the main thrust of the narrative without neglecting gadgets and tricked out vehicles. There are enough twists and turns to keep the action ticking along. The realistic violence is a bit shocking when viewing this film off the back of A View to a Kill, but by this point in the franchise it’s a welcome change. Plenty of double crossing, new gadgets and intense action make it a fun spy thriller, and Joe Don Baker as the war obsessed yet weak-willed arms dealer makes a good villain.
Worth noting is also the new Moneypenny following the retirement of Lois Maxwell, who’d played the role in every Bond film prior. I can see what they were going for with this casting…but they failed.
Score: SEVEN outta TEN