The Living Daylights (1987) / Action-Adventure

MPAA Rated: PG for violence and drug content
Running time: 130 min.

Cast: Timothy Dalton, Maryam d'Abo, Jeroen Krabbe, Joe Don Baker, John Rhys-Davies, Art Malik, Andreas Wisniewski, Thomas Wheatley, Desmond Llewelyn, Robert Brown
Cameo: John Barry
Director: John Glen
Screenplay: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson (based on a story by Ian Fleming)

It's interesting to see that, after the critical failure that was A View to a Kill, that the brain trusts behind the Bond franchise would choose to ride the same horses behind the scenes, as director John Glen (Octopussy, For Your Eyes Only) would return, along with screenwriters Richard Maibaum (The Spy Who Loved Me, The Man with the Golden Gun) and Michael G. Wilson.  Well, perhaps Maibaum isn't a mystery, since he's been involved since Dr. No, but with a new Bond in Timothy Dalton (Flash Gordon, Agatha), one would have thought that a completely fresh approach would have been warranted.  In a way, it actually is a fresh approach, even though The Living Daylights pretty much conforms to every Bond staple, from beautiful women, dangerous stunts, and flashy gadgets galore.  However, what what it really dispenses with is the caricature that the Roger Moore 007 would eventually become, a slyly cartoonish semi-comedian who enjoyed riffing off one-liners to men he was about to dispatch and women he was about to bed. 

Once again, based loosely on an Ian Fleming story, The Living Daylights sees Bond (Dalton) on a mission to assist in the defection of a top Russian General named Georgi Koskov (Krabbe, The Punisher).  To do this, 007 must first stop a sniper out to snuff out the General, but Bond balks when he sees that the sniper is not only obviously not a marksman, but is, in fact, a beautiful woman.  He is able to get the General away nonetheless, but he soon gets to know the woman, who is a professional cellist, Kara Milovy (d'Abo, The Prince & Me II), and just so happens to be the main squeeze of Koskov, who has apparently faked his intention to defect for reasons which eventually lead Bond on an mission to uncover a multimillion dollar opium operation run by mercenaries and ex-spies. 

Although history has proven that the public didn't really take to the Timothy Dalton era (only two films) as James Bond, when looking past the fact that he lacked the formidable screen presence of Connery and the light comedy and romantic style of Moore, he does offer an interesting take on the world's most famous spy that makes him refreshing.  Dalton has the appearance of a brooding figure for Bond, with a mysterious thought process, but at the same time, he isn't as hedonistic as previous incarnations.  Unlike Connery and Moore, who always looked like they were more out to have fun on their adventures, and weren't terribly concerned that they wouldn't gain the upper hand, Dalton offers a more loyal presence, always sticking to the mission first, while his interest in women tends to be much more on the romantic side, rather than just mere sexual conquests.

To this end, the casting of Maryam d"Abo, who isn't the bombshell that normally would be a so-called Bond girl, is very successful, as she plays a very pretty and morally upright woman -- wife material much more than a one-night stand.  if Bond is now serious about settling down, both in his professional as well as his personal life, she is the perfect complement -- a woman worth saving, and worth keeping.  This is a woman that Bond takes on a ride atop a Ferris wheel to give her kisses, and with he holds hands as they walk in the street, rather than trying to wine, dine and have his way with her.  It's the rare time that I recall watching a Bond flick and thinking, "Wouldn't it be nice if these two were to actually stay together for more than one film?" Interestingly, the other time I remember saying this came from another Russian woman Bond involves himself in with his second film, From Russia with Love.  Bond has attempted monogamy before, getting hitched in On Her Majesty's Secret Service and on his way in Casino Royale, but the producers know one thing -- there's no room to squeeze in a main squeeze in Bond's world.

That said, the plot is interesting, but too convoluted for most audiences to come close to following, and Glen's penchant for making Bond's adventures run past the two hour mark proves to be a detriment once again.  At least the story is much more focused this time out, unlike the anemic A View to a Kill, although from a story standpoint, perhaps they tried to get in a little too many story elements and still maintain viewer interest. Nevertheless, the action pieces are still terrific, and whatever murkiness exists in the story structure are glossed over by the romance and stunts, which I would say is fairly typical of most Bonds.

It's been written that Dalton's take on Bond strips away much of his charisma and humor, and makes him not as fun to watch.  Had I not seen Daniel Craig pretty much do the same thing in Casino Royale I might have agreed to a certain extent, but The Living Daylights is actually a pretty good film in the series all in all, and Dalton performance in it is commendable.  The only thing Dalton really lacks is a commanding presence and the ability to convey to audiences what he's made of.  With Dalton, we're not quite sure we understand the man or how he ticks, but we like him because he's the good guy, upright and noble.  Any guy who would  rather see a half billion dollars worth of opium destroyed when he could easily have partaken is someone to root for.  It's too bad Dalton lacked that box office appeal that made the producers chuck him for Pierce Brosnan, as it would be interesting to have seen the films get more serious, and perhaps even become more like the vulnerable and determined man that Fleming envisioned.  Perhaps with Craig, we finally will.

The Living Daylights isn't the best Bond, but it might be the most underrated.  Worth a look, or a second look, for those who enjoy Bond as a man of courage and daring, instead of the infallible borderline-superhero he has often been.

-- Preceded by Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Live and Let Die (1973), The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983), and A View to a Kill (1985).  Followed by Licence to Kill (1989), GoldenEye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), The World is Not Enough (1999), Die Another Day (2002), Casino Royale (2006).

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo