So here it is, the last week of my Bond marathon. This time next Tuesday I’ll be free of 007’s clutches. Well, for a week and a bit and then Skyfall comes out. Still, two thirds over. If only I put this amount of effort into bettering myself. Anyway, you’re on in five, Mr. Dalton.
The Living Daylights (1987)
With Roger Moore having finally hung up the shoulder holster and gone off for a nice little sleep, the hunt was on for the fourth actor to play James Bond. After a long search of countless famous actors (Sam “Jurassic Park” Neill was the favourite for a while) the producers settled for Pierce Brosnan. That ain’t a typo- Brosnan was all but confirmed in the role and was called away at the literal 11th hour to do more Remington Steele. With both the filmmakers and Brosnan gutted, they turned to another someone who had been on their books for a long time, Timothy Dalton, who signed on and immediately immersed himself in the source novels. For the first time in the Bond franchise they had a proper actor actor.
James Bond (Timothy Dalton) is sent to protect the defecting General Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé). After he refuses to kill a sniper (Maryam d’Abo) he uncovers a complicated plot involving a Russian movement to kill spies- Smiert Spionam, an American arms dealer named Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker) and a load of Afghan heroin. Now this is what I’m talking about! Complex but not convoluted, TLD‘s plot pops along at a fast pace involving all sorts of fun elements. It’s got the same sort of feel as the literary Bond adventures and it’s like a huge gulp of fresh air after the open mouthed sewer diving we did in A View to a Kill. There are still silly elements, but not too silly that they detract from the semi-realistic thrust of the film. It’s exaggerated but crucially shows some restraint and pulls back on the reins every now and again to keep everything on the straight and narrow.I love Dalton as Bond. He’s a lot more intense than previous Bonds, but that works. He does seem to struggle slightly with the quipping, but nowhere near enough to be a Lazenby type problem. There are a lot of subtleties to his performance that I hadn’t really picked up on until now. He’s damn good and unfairly sidelined when it comes to ranking the Bonds. I really liked Maryam d’Abo as well. She’s brave, resourceful and nowhere near the blonde bimbo she could have been drawn as. She’s lightyears ahead of Stacey Sutton in the last film. The treacherous Koskov is played well by Jeroen Krabbé. He’s not a comic book villain, he’s just a very believable selfish bastard. Same can’t be said for Joe Don Baker’s Brad Whitaker. He is a bit too ridiculous, but there’s always room for a little bit of that. Art Malik is also decent and likable. Hooray for John Rhys-Davies too.
Sweet Jesus, does this film open well. It’s got one of the best pre-credits sequences yet with Bond and two other 00s on a training mission that goes spectacularly wrong. Dalton cements himself as Bond the moment he looks all pissed off and hares after a truck. This is anti-camp. There is room for levity (did we need so many monkey reaction shots?) but as I said before, it’s balanced. It’s an incredibly well put together sequence that really kicks the film off the right way. In fact, there’s not a dud action scene to be found. Whilst the stunts have always been one of the best things about the Bond films irrelevant of film quality, some of these action beats are the best we’ve seen so far in the series. One of my favourite bits is Necros’ (Andreas Wisniewski) assault on an MI6 safehouse. It’s fucking great. Talking of fucking great things, Bond’s also back behind the wheel of an Aston Martin and the huge setpiece around it is superb. I’m less enthused by the following cello case escape, but can’t win ’em all. The third act showdown involving Bond and Necros hanging out the back of a plane is genuinely thrilling, ignoring the shoddy cardboard scenery that is occasionally visible.
There’s not much I don’t like about The Living Daylights. The titles and dreary A-ha song could both be a lot better. As good as he is, Dalton hasn’t settled into the role at this point and his discomfort with some of the more humourous bits shows. They’ve cast a new Moneypenny in the form of Caroline Bliss. She’s sexy, but not in that homely way that is essential for the part. Plus, I’m not sure if she’s joking or not when she invites Bond round to listen to her Barry Manilow collection. Dalton’s few interactions with her also seem to be a little off. The Daniel Craig era gets a lot of credit for revolutionising Bond and taking him back to his printed roots and whilst some credits is due, praises need to be sung about Dalton’s stint too. All the grittiness and realism? He did all that 30 years before the Craighulk stepped up. It’s just that in the late ’80s audiences aren’t ready for it, but their kids are going to love it.