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:
“I must have scared the living daylights out of her.”
This is the first official 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 all those movies together. Enthusiastically directed by Bond veteran John Glen (For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy), The Living Daylights marked a new beginning, with an obviously younger actor 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 immature. I was mad that Timothy Dalton was no 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 an excellent Bond! Neither drolly urbane (like Roger Moore) nor brutishly elegant (like Sean Connery), Dalton is both grounded and conflicted. He’s tough, 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, 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 an impression. 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 suspension of disbelief, a vital requirement in these types of films.
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. 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.” Plus 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 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. Krabbé is also very good as weasily KGB officer 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 (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 Goldfinger and The Spy Who Loved Me, but above Live and Let Die and Octopussy. Color, 130 minutes, Rated PG.
James Bond will return
License to Kill (1989)