Super-spy 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:
“I must have scared the living daylights out of her.”
This is the first official reboot of the James Bond franchise. Although the films in the franchise 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 all those movies together. The Living Daylights marked a brand new beginning, with an obviously younger actor in the starring role.
Time does strange things to you. When The Living Daylights first came out, I flatly rejected it. Looking back, I was just being a little immature. I was very angry that Timothy Dalton was not Roger Moore. I grew up with Moore’s Bond and 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.
There is no other way to say it: Dalton is simply an excellent Bond! Neither drolly urbane (ala Roger Moore) nor brutishly elegant (ala Sean Connery), the energetic Dalton is both charismatic and grounded. He is very tough, but he is also warm, even caring. More important, Dalton 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 George Lanzeby was also a spunky Bond, but his reign was too short to make a huge impression).
There is a great moment that’s pure Dalton. After a fellow spy is brutally killed, Dalton pauses to reflect. You can clearly see that he is deeply saddened by this death — it’s a nice human moment. And, as I suggested before, Dalton moves like a leopard. When the stuntman takes over, you really don’t notice the changeling and this helps sustain the suspension of disbelief, a vital requirement in these types of films.
Although enthusiastically directed by Bond veteran John Glen (For Your Eyes Only), there are a few things that prevent the movie from being a total success, though. The Living Daylights has a terribly anticlimactic ending. It all should have ended with Bond aboard the cargo plane. It’s such a fantastic sequence, one of the franchise’s most exciting montages, that what comes afterwards only serves to diffuse the suspense.
Some of the acting in the film disappointed me. Joe 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. The beautiful Maryam d’Abo (White Nights) is a little wimpy. Plus she doesn’t have any chemistry with Dalton. They look like brother and sister — I didn’t believe their romance for one second.
I did like the work of Welsh actor John Rhys-Davies (better known as 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 plays well. Jeroen Krabbe is also very good as weasily KGB officer Koskov. Desmond Llewelyn’s “Q” (one of the few actors 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 Oscar-winning composer John Barry (Born Free, The Lion in Winter and Out of Africa), is just okay. I like the pop group A-ha, but I wasn’t crazy about the song. Barry’s incidental music — his 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 Timothy Dalton — the movie is a lot of fun and Dalton is great as our favorite super-spy. Yes, it isn’t 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, maybe below great Bond films like From Russia with Love and The Spy Who Loved Me, but way above Live and Let Die and Octopussy. Color, 130 minutes, Rated PG.
James Bond will return
License to Kill (1989)