Bea’s Retro Reviews: The Living Daylights (1987)

After the departure of Roger Moore from the tuxedo, Eon Productions leaped into action to find the next James Bond and after some serious searching, including a near casting of Sam Neil and future Bond Pierce Brosnan (who had to back out at the eleventh hour thanks to having his contract with Remington Steele extended), it was the classically trained theatre actor Timothy Dalton who next picked up the Walther PPK and set his sights on the world. How did he do? Read on.

This may come as slightly controversial to some, but I personally never thought too much of Sean Connery as James Bond. Don’t read me wrong, he has a fan-base for a reason, not the least of which being his physicality and charm but in terms of impact, Connery, Roger Moore and George Lazenby did not particularly capture my interest as 007. For me, it was Timothy Dalton who actually made me see the 00 agent; charming, loquacious and human one moment then terrifying, reptilian and machine like the next. It really is of no surprise about how he was able to summon forth these facilities, after all, he actually made the conscious effort to read an assortment of Ian Fleming’s novels and henceforth was able to use the source materials to inform his performance to mostly fantastic effect. Dalton worked incredibly hard to not only do justice to the relevant parts of Flemings’ Bond but to also assist in delivering to the audience another side of Bond they had only in the past been briefly familiar with; his dark side. A dark side which would blossom in full in License To Kill, but would nevertheless be glimpsed clearly in The Living Daylights.

In addition to a new Commander Bond with a new attitude, The Living Daylights manages to mostly re-capture the essence of a spy film from the back-when days of the ’60s and ’70s, namely by taking a decidedly grounded approach to the story with less focus on spectacle and more on intrigue and spiralling twists and turns of a compelling narrative. Despite the fact Bond is equipped with yet another Q-Approved (TM) pimped out Aston Martin, much of Bonds’ work is of the foot and wet variety; with his wits and bare hands. Most, if not all of the situations Bond finds himself in alongside the lovely and capable Kara Milovy (Maryam D’Abo, the only Bond Woman in this movie might I add) are ones which are not entirely improbable logic wise and it does go to show the audience that this 007 is not about the gadgets, funky weaponry and the menagerie of women for Bond to bed; he’s about getting the job done, even if it means resorting to down and dirty tactics. Suffice to say, if the man intends to kill you, he will kill you, it’s but a matter of time. Sure, the film still has that chase involving Bond and Kara riding a cello case which pleasantly borders of the absurd, and that admittedly hilarious moment of Kara playing her cello during a performance with a bullet hole in it and being off tune, but it still surprisingly fits quite well into the movie and it is highly enjoyable to boot. I will caution however there are some jokes in this movie which would not be told so liberally in today’s geo-political climate.

Witnessing this relentlessly professional, blunt surgical instrument version of James Bond operating in such an environment undoubtedly caused a lot of fans of the previous films a deal of bother, namely because they were not used to seeing 007 in such a grimy light which led to a rather unfair placement of Dalton behind the Eight Ball. Some took umbrage to the fact he wasn’t as smooth as Connery or humorous as Moore, both criticisms I personally disagree with; to expect another Moore or Connery was fool-hardy and while Dalton’s Bond was significantly colder and did not liberally crack japes, he was no less engaging to watch, especially when it came to his more humanistic attributes, particularly when it comes to his interactions with Kara; there is an undisputed and quite sweet chemistry between them as they go on this adventure together.

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Although the film did indeed perform well at the box office, fans and critics alike were torn on this new rendition of Bond. It has not been until recently (presumably due to the reboot of the series again with Daniel Craig) many have gone back to re-evaluate the Dalton series only to realise that a lot of what makes Craig’s Bond work was blueprinted by Dalton.  Not only that, Dalton fully committed to talking the talk and working the tux, as well as being incredibly involved in the stunt work (much to the chagrin of the stunt folks working on the set), far more than any of his predecessors. When one looks at him, one can BELIEVE he is capable of pulling off the death-defying feats Bond does in the film. Being devastatingly handsome helped at lot in his favor too, let’s not be obtuse here.

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Although The Living Daylights is a thoroughly entertaining film, it’s obvious departure from most of the typical Bond trappings is still divisive among both fans of the franchise and casual film goers and this will impact how they enjoy the film. However, here are my final thoughts; it is an accepted truth that in the world of James Bond, it allows a strong pulse of romantacised derring-do to develop what is perceived as real rather than what is not. Theoretically, it’s a quality all of the Bond films should at least strive to maintain, with their glorious, exotic settings and the achingly beautiful bodies which inhabit it. These are stories based on the notion of idealism as opposed to realism, all to escape the doldrums of ones’ own life in the realm of the real and about definite good conquering definite evil. In demonstration however, they’re now viewed as a smile-knowingly embarrassment given the contemporary times we live in now as opposed to the stark contrast in the earlier films.

The Living Daylights is a different beast; despite reining in a considerable about of Bonds’ scoundrelish behavior and regular abandonment of consequence in favor of a more emotional portrayal of a well-dressed government assassin, there’s nothing to sully the romantic air here. It is because of this we now have and adore Daniel Craig drinking those vodka martinis; it is because of this the Bond films have endured for as long as they have because like ourselves, the universe changes with the times.

While not as flashy as previous entries before it, The Living Daylights set up a new generation of Commander Bond which would leave a lasting impact on the franchise. It would not be until the next film however that audiences would truly see what lurked underneath that tuxedo and just how dangerous being on Bond’s bad side could be.

Trivia: I, for one, adore A-Ha’s title song, consequences be damned.

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