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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Series Report Card: James Bond 007 (1987)

15. The Living Daylights

The time had come to cast a new actor as James Bond. Roger Moore’s long-lasting tenure as the character was up. As always, many actors were considered and auditioned. Sam Neill reportedly gave an impressive audition, future Bond Pierce Brosnan nearly won the role, and names as varied as Lambert Wilson, Christopher Lambert, and Mel Gibson were thrown around. In the end, the part went to an actor who had been considered before. Timothy Dalton passed on the part back in the seventies, saying he was too young at the time. Finally accepting the part, Dalton and his premiere film, “The Living Daylights,” were critically well-liked and successful at the box office. These days, Dalton and his short-loved run as James Bond tend to be overlooked. This is unfair as Dalton makes a great impression and “The Living Daylights” is the best Bond film in quite some time.

James Bond is sent to protect a Soviet defector, Koskov, from a potential assassin. Bond saves the guy but, after seeing the sniper is a beautiful woman, he doesn’t kill her. Koskov is stolen back by the Soviets during an attack on MI-6 headquarters. At least, that’s what it looks like. Instead, Koskow is working with an American arms-dealer named Whitaker. The duo plan on playing Bond against their Soviet boss, resulting in easier business for both of them. 007, smelling a rat, teams up with Koskov’s girlfriend, a cellist and the assassin he didn’t shoot. The two work together to unravel the scheme and take out the trash.

“A View to a Kill” had a break-out pop hit with its theme song. In hopes of recreating that success, a similar pop group was recruited to sing “The Living Daylight’s” titular song. A-ha is widely mocked as a one-hit wonder, at least in America. Their Bond theme is powered by marching synth and brooding vocals. The tone of the song is paranoid, which fits the darker style of the film. It’s a solid Bond theme and a likable pop number. As for Maurice Binder’s opening sequence, it’s simple but effective. Mostly, women in frilly dresses and long gloves pose with guns. However, the images are paired up perfectly with the music, making for a memorable opening.

Timothy Dalton tends to be a whipping boy among certain parts of the fandom. After seven films with the campy Roger Moore, Dalton’s more introspective take on the character rubbed some the wrong way. Timothy Dalton’s James Bond is indeed darker then Moore. He’s tougher with his enemies and prone to anger and outrage. He bristles under the command of his bosses, frequently favoring his own instincts over his orders. However, referring to Dalton’s Bond as just the “dark/brooding” one oversimplifies his abilities. Dalton actually, successfully, combines aspects of all the past Bonds. He’s serious about his work and willing to kill in cold blood, like Sean Connery. He’s also a romantic lead, charming the ladies in a very sincere way, much like George Lazenby. Dalton delivers one-liners worthy of Roger Moore, though they’re in a different, deadpan style. Yet he makes the part his own. These aspects combine to make Timothy Dalton a personal favorite of mine and the most underrated actor to play Bond. He also looks the part, with his heroic facial features, dark eyes, and mysterious good looks.

Dalton’s more intense approach to the character isn’t the only different about “The Living Daylights.” The film returns to the down-to-earth tone last seen in “For Your Eyes Only.” It is a serious Cold War thriller, full of actual spying and double-crossing. MI-6 is set up by the villains, being used by the bad guys to wrap up their loose ends. Bond, after the proper amount of investigation, discovers this subterfuge. Teaming up with the Soviet general Pushkin, he turns the table on his betrayers, tricking them into thinking he exterminated their target. It’s a nice touch that “The Living Daylights” features the British and the Soviets working together to defeat villains who profit off of war.

In another break from tradition, Bond only romances one woman throughout most of “The Living Daylights.” Kara Milovy is a true innocent being manipulated by her scumbag boyfriend. Bond is manipulating her at first too, pretending to be a friend of Koskov as to get closer to the girl. However, real sparks fly between the two. When it becomes apparent that Koskov has no attachment to her, Kara falls into Bond’s arm. In the last third, she even endeavors to save his life. The romantic relationship forms the backbone of “The Living Daylights.” Timothy Dalton has fantastic chemistry with Maryam d’Abo. The romantic encounters the two have, mainly a montage set in a carnival, are genuinely charming. You really want to see these two lovebirds run off together. d’Abo is pitch perfect in the part, being immediately likable but capable of hidden strength. It doesn’t hurt that she’s beautiful too.

A real weakness of “The Living Daylights” is that it doesn’t have a single strong villain. Instead, the film splits the bad guy’s operation among three different characters. Jeroen Krabbe plays Koskov, the cowardly general who motivates the plot. Krabbe plays the character almost for comedy as a simpering weasel only interested in the bottom dollar. Though Krabbe is appropriately despicable, he doesn’t make for the most entertaining villain. His henchman Necros provides the film’s physical threat. Andreas Wisniewski shares a stern, Aryan appearance with many other Bond henchman. Necros, however, is especially brutal, strangling his targets with headphone cords. Though his ice cold expression don’t show it, he clearly enjoys taking out his targets. The mastermind behind the film’s plot is Brad Whitaker, the weapons dealer. Joe Don Baker would probably never be anyone’s first choice for a Bond villain. Yet Baker is weirdly well-cast as the all-American-gone-wrong Whitaker, obsessed with military history but with his own disreputable service record. He’s smug but desperate, motivated mostly by greed and his own inflated sense of ego. He’s the right villain for this sort of film.

Though “The Living Daylights” deviates from the expected Bond formula in many ways, it makes one serious correction. It brings back the Aston Martin. This time, 007 gets behind the wheel of the V8 Vantage. It’s outfitted with a number of weapons, like wheel-mounted lasers, hidden missile launchers, and a self-destruct switch that blows up real good. The chase takes place over the snowy country side, Bond outmatching the pursuing agents with his bitching set of wheels. A great moment comes when the car drives on to an iced-over lake. He looses a tire but cuts open the ice with the edge of the rim. Later, some smartly deployed skis and ice spikes lets the chase continues. Even after leaving the car behind, the chase scenes goes on. Bond and his love interest slide down the mountain side atop her cello, in what is one of my favorite stunts in any Bond flick.

The action in “The Living Daylights” is overall awesome. The opening action set-piece, when a Soviet agent interrupts a routine training exercise, shows how hands-on Dalton’s Bond is. He leaps onto the roof of a Jeep, slashes his way into the driver’s seat, and just barely escapes the vehicle before it explodes. A foot chase across the rooftops of Tangiers is a worthy moment. A smaller moment that is equally exciting is when Bond out-grapples some guards while escaping from a jail cell. That’s when his judo skills really come in handle.

“The Living Daylights” plays with the expected James Bond formula in many ways. However, it still features two armies coming to blows at the end. In a moment that now reads as historically uncomfortable, James Bond teams up with the Afghan rebels against the Soviet baddies. This leads to men on horseback shooting machine guns at guys in Jeeps and tanks. There are two bits of action that really stand out to me. The first involves a grenade tossed in a truck, which the driver does not escape in time. The second comes when a bulldozer is used to take out an encampment. Bond and Necros end their rival inside a cargo net dangling from a moving airplane, an especially exciting fight scene. That’s as good of a send-off that any Bond villain can ask for. Afterwards, the secret agent blows up a bridge and takes a dive out of a plummeting airplane.

In an interesting choice, the big action climax is not the conclusion of the film. After escaping the Afghan conflict, Bond tracks down Whitaker. The final fight between hero and villain doesn’t take place on the battlefield. Instead, it takes place in the cramped location of Whitaker’s personal room. Joe Don Daker hefting a cannon, equipped with a Plexiglas blast shield, is a quasi-ridiculous image. However, how Bond defeats him is especially satisfying. A device gifted to him by Q early on, a key chain containing a bomb, pays off nicely. Though the postmortem one-liner is a real groaner, I think Dalton earns it.

In addition to the new Bond, “The Living Daylights” mixes up the supporting cast some too. Robert Brown and Desmond Llewelyn return to their parts of M and Q. Llewelyn seems to be enjoying himself even more then usual here, trading quips with Dalton. With the exit of Roger Moore, Lois Maxwell retired from the part of Moneypenny. Moore flirting with Maxwell was fine but the age difference she shared with Dalton was probably too great. Stepping into the role is Caroline Bliss, a delightful and adorable actress who has a much spicier chemistry with this Bond. Sadly, Moneypenny doesn’t get much screen time this go around. Also played by a much younger actor is Felix Leiter. John Terry essays the role, playing Leiter as a young hotshot equal to Bond. Terry’s role is fairly smart and Leiter doesn’t even contribute much to the story. I would have liked to have seen him do more.

“The Living Daylights” is a successful first outing for Timothy Dalton as Bond. It cements the actor’s take on the character, one that’s more intense and complex. He’s also a great romantic lead, the film featuring one of the most endearing love stories in any Bond film. Yet the movie doesn’t sacrifice the sense of globe-trotting fun that characterizes the series. The selection of villains could have been better and the film isn’t as perfectly paced as other entries in the franchise. All things considered, it’s a great debuted for Dalton and a ripping adventure yarn. [Grade: B+]


[] Destroys Evil Doer’s Lair
[X] Drinks or Orders a Vesper Martini
[X] Gets Captured and/or Tortured
[X] Introduces Himself as “Bond – James Bond”
[X] Teams-Up with Felix Leiter
[X] Uses Judo or a Walther PPK to Dispose of an Enemy
[X] Wears a Tux

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