Director : John Glen
Year Of Release : 1987
Principal Cast : Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Joe Don Baker, John Rhys-Davies, Art Malik, Jeroen Krabbe, Andreas Wisniewski, Thomas Wheatley, Robert Brown, Desmond Llewelyn, Geoffrey Keen, Caroline Bliss, John Terry, Walter Gotell, Virginia Hey, Julia T Wallace.
Approx Running Time : 130 Minutes
Synopsis: James Bond is living on the edge to stop an evil arms dealer from starting another world war. Bond crosses all seven continents in order to stop the evil Whitaker and General Koskov.
A new Bond for a new era: following 12 years of Roger Moore’s ageing portrayal of Ian Fleming’s famous superspy, the role was recast (dalliances with everyone from Pierce Brosnan and Kiwi actor Sam Neill for the role were suggested) with British actor Timothy Dalton essaying the part for the first time. With the Cold War continuing the loom large in political and international discussions, Bond’s enemies once again were a mix of Eastern European heavies and a distinctive KGB bent, while the film’s overall tone is a fairly flat, occasionally inert affair. Compared to Moore’s final film, A View To A Kill, which failed to ignite interest only two years prior, The Living Daylights is a more serious Bond this time out, lacking the kitschy camp humour and spectacular overblown set-pieces for a lower-key outing featuring the world’s most unsecret agent.
Dalton’s Bond kicks off his tenure with a mission to locate a KGB defector, Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe), who is recaptured by the Russians after briefly being liberated by Bond and a fellow operative. He encounters beautiful Russian would-be assassin, Kara (Maryam d’Abo), Koskov’s girlfriend, and together they travel across continents to locate Koskov. Bond’s main mission is to hunt down and kill new head of the KGB, Leonid Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies), who has re-established the bygone mantra of “death to spies”, which could further escalate tensions between Russia and the West. Mixing it up in all this is American arms dealer Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker), who seems intent on playing both sides of against the other to further his financial position.
Well before Daniel Craig stepped up to bat, Timothy Dalton was (to me, at least) the perfect representation of James Bond to that point. As a spy, Bond needed to have nerves of steel, incredible skill and, above all, an ice-cold demeanour to which his chosen profession would allow him to operate satisfactorily. Although Connery had accomplished much to set the foundation, neither George Lazenby or Roger Moore personified the tough but approachable character with the kind of reserve needed. Dalton, with his chiselled profile and clenched delivery, not to mention his steely-eyed glare, encapsulates as closely as I imagined the coil-spring of tension inherent in international espionage with his performance as Bond. Bond’s leading lady in The Living Daylights is youthful, beautiful and innocent – Maryam d’Abo personifies the prototypical Bond Girl with wide-eyed enthusiasm and a thick Russian accent, although her part is (as usual for Bond) largely superficial and honorific.
The supporting cast features a decidedly solid roster of talent, including Indiana Jones co-star John Rhys-Davies as a KGB boss, terrific Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbe (Immortal Beloved) as the “defector” Koskov, and True Lies‘ Art Malik as a Mujahadeen leader. Stealing the show, however, is Joe Don Baker, as a criminally complicit arms dealer who continues to pull the strings as forces rage around him. Baker delights in the hamminess of it all, chewing the scenery and towering over almost everyone else in the film. As usual, it’s always lovely to see the late Desmond Llewelyn as Q in his element – the “ghetto blaster” line is an absolute classic – and Caroline Bliss as the Dalton-era Moneypenny.
The Living Daylights isn’t the greatest Bond film ever made – in fact, it’s well down the list for a number of reasons, chief among them a bland directorial style from franchise veteran John Glen, whose command of action sequences and large-scale stunts is workmanlike without being the showstopper Bond deserves. The central plot is generic to a fault – maybe not for 1987, but certainly for a rewatch these days – with it’s overblown Russian caricatures and double-triple-and-quadruple-crossing twists and turns. Bond’s romance with Kara, in spite of her supposed relationship with another man, feels clumsy and kinda creepy, although in the end… well, you know, Bond always gets the girl. As usual there’s weapons, covert operatives being gunned down left and right, countless Russian henchmen dealt with at the end of a gunbarrel, and enough clichéd accents to sink a battle-cruiser – it’s like the tick-box of the franchise just keeps popping up like malware to continually remind us of exactly which type of film we’re watching.
The Living Daylights is middle-ground Bond, shirking histrionic extravagance for a modicum of modernised restraint and realism to a franchise bordering on overcooked by the time Moore finished his run. The film feels inert somehow, as if it’s incapable of getting out of second gear, a flat-footed exercise that lacks the grit of the franchise’s best efforts in spite of a solid grounding in believability. Bond’s trick-bag of gadgets and cars remain intact, although his entendre-laden dialogue is extremely restrained compared to previous efforts (it’s certainly no Brosnan in Die Another Day, that’s for sure), and John Barry’s final turn as composer for the franchise is enthusiastic, thematic, and suitably infused with bravado. The film’s opening title track, however, an insipid thing by Euro-pop band Ah-Ha (responsible for “Take On Me” elsewhere in your mp3 collection) is a considerable let-down from the classics of yore.
The Living Daylights doesn’t demand devotion like many of its contemporary entries in the “modern Bond” era (I include the Brosnan and Craig films in this category), and while undeservedly lacking in iconic moments, it’s through no fault of Dalton that the film is harshly judged today. Dalton steps into the role as if he had done it his whole life, infusing the character with an undercurrent of hard-edged focus that Moore had figured didn’t warrant attention, and although surrounded by cliché and convention, he more than ably commands the screen in spite of the film’s limitations.