M16’s James Bond (Timothy Dalton, The Lion in Winter) is assigned to help a KGB officer, General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe, The Prince of Tides), defect to the West. But after Koskov mysteriously disappears, Bond realizes that the whole defection was a sham. Bond also discovers that Koskov is involved with an American mercenary (Joe Don Baker, Walking Tall), who is suspected of selling arms to the Russians.
Reaction & Thoughts:
This is the first real reboot of the Bond franchise. Although the films have never been considered sequels, from Dr. No to A View to a Kill, you get the impression that you are watching a series of adventures by the same person — there are tidbits of information that tie the whole franchise together. The Living Daylights, written by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, directed by Bond veteran John Glen (Octopussy and A View to a Kill), marked a new beginning, with an obviously younger actor, Timothy Dalton, in the starring role.
Time does strange things to you. When the movie first came out, I flatly rejected it. Looking back, I was just being immature. I was just mad that Timothy Dalton was no Roger Moore. I grew up with Moore’s Bond (I didn’t even know of Sean Connery or George Lanzenby until much, much later). My idea of Bond was formed by watching Moore’s outings. Now, older and hopefully wiser, I can fully appreciate Dalton for what he was, not for what I wanted him to be.
Dalton is really an excellent Bond. There is no other way to say it. Neither drolly urbane (like Moore) nor brutishly elegant (like Connery), Dalton is both realistic and conflicted. He’s tough, very tough, but he is also warm, even caring. More important, he brings to the role a level of energy and agility that was lost somewhat as Connery and Moore got older and older (odd-man-out Lanzeby was also a spunky Bond, but his reign was too short to make an impression).
There is a great moment that’s pure Dalton. After a fellow spy is brutally killed, he pauses to reflect. You can see the anger on his face and you can clearly see that he is deeply saddened by the death of his co-worker. The moment doesn’t last long, but it is long enough to make a huge impression. And, as I suggested before, Dalton moves like leopard. When the stuntman takes over, you really don’t notice the changeling and this helps sustain suspension of disbelief, a vital requirement in these types of films.
There are a few things that prevent the film from being a total success. First, I think the movie has a terribly anticlimactic ending. It all should have ended with Bond aboard the cargo plane. It’s such a fanatic sequence, one of the franchise’s most exciting montages, that what comes afterwards only serves to diffuse the suspense.
Finally, some of the acting in the film disappointed me. Don Baker’s villain is too much of a cartoon character. It doesn’t really belong in an otherwise straightforward thriller. Baker is a fine actor so I blame the writers for the lack of depth. Maryam d’Abo (White Nights) is one of the wimpiest Bond girls and she doesn’t have any chemistry with Dalton. They look like brother & sister (Dalton looks at d’Abo the way one looks at a stray puppy) — I didn’t believe their romance for one second.
I did like the work of English-born Welsh actor John Rhys-Davies (Sallah in the Indiana Jones movies and Gimli in The Lord of the Rings trilogy), who plays General Leonid Pushkin — it’s an interesting character that Rhys-Davies play well. Krabbé is also very good as weasily Koskov. Desmond Llewelyn’s “Q” (the only actor to survive the reboot) has some good moments too.
The title song, “The Living Daylights”, lyrics by Pål Waaktaar (a member of the famous Norwegian band A-ha), music by composer John Barry, is just okay. I like the pop group A-ha, but I wasn’t crazy about the song. Barry’s last Bond music score is excellent, though. He left the series on a high note (no pun intended).
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
I hate to admit it, but I was so, so wrong about The Living Daylights and Dalton — the movie is a lot of fun and Dalton is great as our favorite spy. Yes, it is not perfect, but it is better than most of today’s action flicks. As far as the franchise is concerned, The Living Daylights deserves a place right in the middle, right below great Bond films like Dr. No, Goldfinger and The Spy Who Loved Me, but above of Thunderball, Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun. Color, 130 minutes, Rated PG.
James Bond will return
License to Kill (1989)