Review: The Living Daylights
On a mission to rub out an assassin and assist in the defection of Russian General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe), James Bond (Timothy Dalton) finds it difficult to complete the mission when he realises his intended target is a woman, cellist Kara (Maryam d’Abo), who is actually Koskov’s girlfriend. Koskov, who escapes unharmed, tells MI6 that rival General Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies) is behind the assassination attempt and Bond is sent to rub him out instead. Meanwhile, Bond gets to know Kara, and you know how that goes. Joe Don Baker plays American arms dealer and war buff Brad Whitaker, who plays a part in the criminal scheme at hand. Andreas Wisniewski plays a henchman fond of strangling his victims. Art Malik is Kamran Shah who is a Mujahadeen freedom fighter who proves a useful ally to Bond in the Middle East. Thomas Wheatley plays the frequently pissy British Secret Service affiliate Saunders, who sets up the initial defection plan and is annoyed when 007 goes rogue from those plans. Look out for Aussie “Farscape” actress Virginia Hey as Pushkin’s mistress.
This 1987 James Bond flick from director John Glen (“For Your Eyes Only”, “Octopussy”, “Licence to Kill”) was a work-in-progress for star Timothy Dalton. He and the film never quite find their footing. His next one, “Licence to Kill” would turn out even better than some of the Sean Connery entries. As you know by now, I tend to review Bond films a little differently, there’s a formula and set of pre-requisites to them. Here we start with seriously weak-sounding trumpets on the gun barrel theme, one of the worst of its kind. Things only get worse with the awful synth pop score by iconic Bond composer John Barry, his worst-ever music score by far and the worst-ever music score to a Bond film. Yes, even worse than Bill Conti’s ghastly disco-fied score for “For Your Eyes Only” and that shit was horrendous. Meanwhile, Robert Brown is still a dead-shit boring M. On the plus side, the opening 7 minutes is action-packed fun before the credits kick in. Sadly, the title song by A-Ha is…not their one memorable song. It defies belief that Barry is responsible for not only the score but had a hand in the songwriting too. Desmond Llewelyn’s Q is always a welcome sight but his ‘Ghetto Blaster’ gadget is indicative of one of the film’s issues: It’s very, very mid-80s and mostly not in the flattering sense. How 80s? In addition to that idiotic gadget, “Die Hard” henchman Andreas Wisniewski plays a henchman/assassin who strangles people with his Walkman headphones. This from a franchise that had already given us Lynn-Holly Johnson and Duran Duran. Don’t get me wrong, Wisniewski isn’t bad, in fact he’s a bit of goofy fun. It’s just that it’s the most easily dated film in the franchise next to maybe “Live and Let Die”, and Wisniewski’s obviously dubbed voice is pretty regrettable too.
The film isn’t known for having any iconic Bond villains, but Jeroen Krabbe is absolutely hilarious, slimy, and completely obviously a duplicitous phony defector. Transparent or not, the guy’s a lot of fun to watch and you wish he were in more of the film. As for the debuting Timothy Dalton? He got better in the next film, but even here he’s a better Bond than Daniel Craig and Roger Moore (who made some better Bond films, mind you), and a better actor than George Lazenby. In action-mode and anywhere outside the bedroom, he’s OK in this interpretation of the character (an interpretation that isn’t as close to Fleming as many would have you believe). There’s a cool bit with a car with a laser that cuts another car in half. In fact, the entire chase scene is fun, ending up on snowy terrain and featuring a car that seems to have everything. A V8 Vantage Aston Martin, it’s definitely my favourite 007 car alongside the (obviously entirely bullshit) Lotus Esprit car submarine in “The Spy Who Loved Me”. Despite mostly being no-nonsense by design, Dalton’s 007 even has a humorous moment or two, especially an hilarious scene with Q.
While Dalton shares some of the blame, it’s when Bond girl Maryam d’Abo turns up that things really start to go wrong for the film. She’s one of the blandest and least charismatic Bond girls of all-time and they share anti-chemistry together. Whatever Bond is supposed to see in this girl to make him want to go slightly off-mission…d’Abo is unable to project it on screen. It’s a massive problem given not only the importance and size of the role, but also because Bond falls so hard and fast for her for…reasons, I guess. Her cello has more personality than she does. Caroline Bliss, meanwhile proves to be every bit as sexy and interesting as you want a Bond girl to be. Unfortunately, she’s playing Miss Moneypenny and 007 never does a goddamn thing with Moneypenny. Ever. Moving on from that, the other issue at hand here is secondary villain Brad Whitaker, played by the very dependable character actor Joe Don Baker. It’s a good thing Baker was later given a different character to play in the Pierce Brosnan 007 films because Whitaker is…underwhelming. At one point d’Abo refers to Whitaker as ‘a patron of the arts’. He plays with toy soldiers and is played by Joe Don Fuckin’ Baker. The hell he’s a patron of the arts, lady. Baker’s actual performance is fine, but the character doesn’t work. The buffoonish Whitaker might’ve worked if Krabbe’s character weren’t also campy, or if Krabbe had more scenes to compensate. Krabbe’s good, just not menacing and indeed that is what the film lacks a bit of. Something about the balance isn’t quite right either way on the villainous side, though John Rhys-Davies always manages to bring fun in even the worst of films. Here he’s essentially playing the Robbie Coltrane ‘not-so bad guy’ part from the Brosnan 007 films, but for the Dalton era.
Truth be told, there’s way too many characters here in the messy script by Richard Maibaum (Just about every Bond film since “Dr. No”) and Michael G. Wilson (“For Your Eyes Only”, the underrated “Octopussy”, “Licence to Kill”). Veteran character actor Geoffrey Keen (in his final film role) is typically solid but as unnecessary as he was in some of the Roger Moore films, and a flagrantly irritating Thomas Wheatley doesn’t need to be here in a film that already has Felix Leiter (John Terry plays the part here and is at least better than the guy from “Thunderball”) serving a similar function. I haven’t even mention the late and overlong excursion to Afghanistan, which has aged about as well as “Rambo III”. 9/11 makes 80s action movies uber-awkward (some from the 90s too, actually). Art Malik is truly superfluous here, and his far too posh accent doesn’t help either. Tedious stuff as we basically have the climax from “Rambo III” playing out a year earlier here. That said, the subsequent scene with Whitaker is a bit of campy fun, though Malik’s line ‘Sorry we’re late. We had some trouble at the airport’ is…yeah. Let’s not even discuss that one. Capping things off is a shit song by The Pretenders, who are shit. Yes they are. It’s a scientific fact.
I enjoyed some of this Bond flick, but the romance and leading lady are a wash, and the music is atrocious (It was John Barry’s series swan song too), and there are far too many characters to properly handle. Dalton isn’t bad in his debut, but he and the franchise hadn’t quite figured out the direction they wanted to go yet. Although not plentiful enough, the action is good. The film so-so, although it looks better compared to the previous and absolute worst film in the series, the bloated “A View to a Kill”.