The Living Daylights (1987)

James Bond film #15 (Timothy Dalton Bond)

The Living Daylights (1987)

The Living Daylights is the first Bond film with Timothy Dalton, a man who would certainly be the most forgotten Bond if it weren’t for Mr. George Lazenby. While Roger Moore altered Bond to make him more comical and suave, Dalton dials back the self-awareness and plays the role more like a serious spy. It’s not a bad idea, and we’ll see that approach work well when we get to Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, but there’s very obvious tension on display in this film between Dalton’s new take and the material’s inability to adapt alongside him.

The Living Daylights is similar to For Your Eyes Only in that its title and plot are so unremarkable it’s likely to be forgotten by all but the most devoted Bond fans. The only notable thing about it is the new Bond. Dalton was 41 years old when he was finally cast as Bond (having previously been considered at ages 22 and 34), and although that’s the oldest we ever saw Connery in the role, Dalton still looks baby-faced after watching Moore age for 12 years. His youthful energy comes out more in the action scenes than with the ladies – there’s not nearly as much green-screening as in the last couple of Moore films, and aside from the pre-credits sequence, Dalton stays monogamous throughout the film (a possible side-effect of the contemporary AIDS epidemic).

Unfortunately, the girl he’s attached to is another feeble Bond girl. Maryam d’Abo plays Kara Milovy, a Czech cellist who gets set up by her boyfriend, KGB General Georgi Koskov. Milovy’s a sweet girl, but she’s kind of an airhead, easily deceived by both Koskov and Bond (but still madly in love with both). She’s the type of girl who whines about her cello in times of danger and only stands by looking worried when Bond gets wrapped up in a fight. Much more entertaining is Jeroen Krabbé as Koskov, his wild gestures and facetious love for Bond adding adding a snarkiness to his evil-doings. Those evil-doings involve Brad Whitaker, an arms dealer played by Joe Don Baker as a stereotypical boisterous American obsessed with war and conquer. His immature fixation on toys and figurines is out of place with Dalton’s dour Bond, but then again, a lot of the movie seems to be at odds with its leading man.

It would have behooved this film to have a different crew working with the new Bond, everyone sort of figuring it out together as they went. Instead, we have the same Bond crew as the past three movies, with Albert Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson producing, John Glen directing, Richard Maibaum and Wilson penning the script, and John Barry composing. They keep giving Dalton all of Moore’s old traits and he just doesn’t pick them up well. He mutters the one-liners with no comedic impact, most of them lost under his breath, and even something as outlandish as riding a cello case down a snowy mountain is played with the straightest of faces. You can sense Dalton trying to bring a harder edge to the character, but a lot of the material is the same old Bond fluff.

When it does keep pace with the new Bond, The Living Daylights is great. The plot is one of the better Bond storylines, full of deception and knowledge trading hands, as Koskov tries to set up another Soviet General for refusing to close an arms deal with Whitaker. Andreas Wisniewski plays main henchman Necros who has an amazing introduction infiltrating the MI6 safehouse guised as a milkman. He fights off a group in a kitchen using boiling water and milk bombs – a close quarters combat scene of classic quality Bond material. His finale is equally exhilarating, he and Bond hanging off a cargo net as they duke it out on a giant plane midflight. Plus, we return to some exotic locales, with action taking place in Morocco (shot on location) and Afghanistan (not quite shot on location due to that whole Soviet invasion thing).

The Living Daylights is an okay film with a lot of internal conflict. As the new James Bond, Timothy Dalton tries desperately to uproot the series and move it in a new direction, but most of the time it remains firmly planted. The resulting tear reveals, once again, that the Bond formula has grown tired and predictable, though somehow (beyond my understanding) still entertaining.

Final rating: 6.5/10

–James A. Janisse

Stray Observations:

  • Holy crap, Felix Leiter is back! Played by, once again, a totally new actor. John Terry interprets the character as a righteous bro.
  • It’s fun to see Afghan mujaheddin portrayed as heroes, since at the time they were “freedom fighters” combating the Soviets. Oh, what a difference 15 years makes.
  • On that racial / ethnic note, Q is making a “ghetto blaster”, a boombox rocket launcher, for the Americans. Is that… is that as bad as it sounds?
  • From Duran Duran to A-ha. So ’80s.
  • With a new Bond and a new Moneypenny (and a recently-new M), it’s almost like we’re watching a new series. Good thing Desmond Llewelyn is there to remind us that, no, this is still the same series as the previous 14 Bonds. Also: Check out his eyebrows.
  • The return of the Aston Martin.
Bond Girl Fate

Kara Milovy

(Maryam d’Abo)

Main Bond Girl:A Czech cellist set up by her KGB boyfriend, she eventually learns to trust Bond, surviving alongside him and getting to perform a concert in front of an audience and sexy timez in front of Bond.

Linda

(Kell Tyler)

Pre-Credits Bond Girl: Bond parachutes onto her boat as she bemoans not having a “real man”. He steals her phone and she asks him for sex.

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