Topic: In Defence of The Living Daylights

A lengthy review of one of the Bond films I would consider to be underrated- starting with the 1980s...

Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton’s first outings as 007 both open with scenes of violent death, as we witness fellow agents grimly struck down far from home territory. Yet while the circumstances leading up to each actor’s introduction of the iconic character are apparently similar, their initial appearances onscreen could not be more different. While the opening glimpses of Roger Moore’s 007 involve our hero cosily wandering into the kitchen at home, Timothy Dalton’s Bond is first seen reeling in shock at the sight of 004’s brutal murder, throwing himself breathlessly into the chase as he struggles desperately to despatch a lone assailant. It’s a prescient indication of the direction this new tenure was destined to take.  Dalton’s 007 prefers action over words, toughness over luxury, more comfortable glaring coldly down the sights of a rifle at his next target than peering lazily through binoculars at the grassy slopes of Brazil or Ascot racecourse, snapping orders at his allies rather than revelling in shared camaraderie.

Critics have charged Dalton’s two performances in the role as lacking screen presence. This isn’t quite accurate. While Dalton undoubtedly lacks the suave confidence of Sean Connery before him or Pierce Brosnan afterward, this is an entirely conscious decision; instead, Dalton’s Bond is perturbed and troubled, less certain of his place in the stifling MI6 hierarchy and struggling to hold his own against either friends or foes. Bond’s atypical reaction to the bureaucratic Saunders’ complaints, briskly declaring that “If M fires me, I’ll thank him for it” is revealing, as is Bond’s cold detachment towards Kara in the wake of Saunders’ death. This Bond is even permitted to make mistakes,  drawing his gun in the heat of the pursuit and accidentally startling a frightened mother and child. This is a well-meaning attempt to portray Bond as a flawed figure, a three-dimensional character rather than a cardboard cipher for British influence abroad.   Besides, Dalton shows himself perfectly capable of displaying all the finest traits of his predecessors at points; witness his despatching of Necros aboard the plane, a moment of ruthlessness to rival Connery’s unhesitant killing of Professor Dent in Dr. No, or his defence of tampering with Koskov’s hamper of presents, an aside of smirking snobbery worthy of Roger Moore at his best.

Dalton’s refreshing take on 007 is the most notable highlight of the film, but there are also some sterling action sequences to be enjoyed here. The best of these is probably Bond’s airborne battle with the Soviet assassin Necros, a brutal fight given real jeopardy by the ticking-clock aspect of the bomb waiting in the belly of the plane. In an effective moment of foreshadowing, an early sequence depicts Necros cruelly dispensing with one of Bond’s MI6 colleagues at a safehouse, a tense and bloody tussle that showcases the henchman’s lethal talents and raises the stakes for the inevitable physical match with 007 himself. This sense of danger is lent further weight when Necros is seen to be responsible for the murder of Bond’s reluctant ally Saunders, again serving to demonstrate the henchman’s latent menace far better than crushing a set of loaded dice ever could.

There’s a general sense of confidence and direction to The Living Daylights that’s noticeably missing from much of the Moore era. While Moore’s earlier instalments, such as The Man With the Golden Gun, made a habit of imitating the prevailing genres of the time such as kung fu and science fiction sagas, and his latter films, such as A View to a Kill, were arguably generic retreads of the franchise’s 60s glories, The Living Daylights functions far better as a genuine spy thriller, with a frosty Cold War atmosphere of international intrigue founded on a complex web of betrayals and defections. Compared to the lightly cartoonish depiction of looming nuclear Armageddon in 1983’s Octopussy, for example, The Living Daylights represents a definite step into more realistic territory for the series’ plotting.

While the lead performance, action and plotting remain strong, there are a few weaknesses to the adventure. Chief among these is the rather weak cadre of villains assembled against 007. Jeroen Krabbe’s General Koskov is a strong contender for the worst main villain of the series, undergoing a ridiculous volte-face from bumbling oaf to calculating schemer, from maladroit to mastermind. The transformation isn’t really believable, and the anticlimactic manner of his exit, meekly arrested rather than dying in a blaze of fireworks, doesn’t help either.  More effective in execution is Joe Don Baker’s tech-obsessed arms dealer, a fanatic obsessed with military gizmos and tainted by an all-consuming lust for war. When challenged on his admiration for historical generals, the crazed Whitaker proclaims them to be: “Surgeons. They cut away society’s dead flesh.”, in a disturbingly cold and clinical line. While Whitaker proves a serviceable villain, and the henchman Necros is excellent, Koskov lets the trio down badly, and is something of a weak link for the film overall.

In the final analysis, however, The Living Daylights is a well-crafted thriller, and a contender for the best Bond film of the Eighties. Scoring highly on its central Bond performance, action and authentic Cold War atmosphere, the film is let down only by a few duff moments of humour and shaky villains. A far more assured Bond adventure than its immediate predecessors in the series, The Living Daylights is ultimately an endearing and exciting instalment that paves an intriguing new direction for the character of James Bond.


Re: In Defence of The Living Daylights

FYEO is the best Bond film of the 80s  ajb007/wink

President of the 'Misty Eyes Club'.

-------Dalton - the weak and weepy Bond!------


Re: In Defence of The Living Daylights

Higgins wrote:

FYEO is the best Bond film of the 80s  ajb007/wink

Hate to agree with a moronic idiot. But you are right here.  But even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then.



Re: In Defence of The Living Daylights

Thank you, SoD, for that well-written and perceptive review. I'd only add that John Barry's final Bond score (and his brief cameo) serves the film well and keeps it strongly in the Bond family; a new composer would have been wrong at this point.