Review: The Living Daylights

Welcome to my review of The Living Daylights, the fifteenth part of my challenge to review all of the James Bond films. I’m watching each film in turn and trying to figure out which one is my favourite. For more information, see my introduction here. You can read my review of the previous film, A View To A Kill, here. Spoilers follow.

The Living Daylights
(dir. John Glen, 1987)

The Living Daylights trailerSo, Timothy Dalton, then. He’s not Roger Moore, that’s for sure. Or George Lazenby, or even Sean Connery. He’s a very serious man.

This isn’t a bad thing. After the reign of Moore as James Bond—especially For Your Eyes Only and A View To A Kill—seeing Dalton play Bond as a straight assassin is very refreshing. Quips aside, it’s easy to believe that Dalton’s 007 would happily murderise any bad guys who got in his way: he is an angry, vengeful Bond.

The Living Daylights opens with a training exercise on the Rock of Gibraltar, which is particularly exciting for me as I used to live there and spotted my old home in the footage. Three Double-0 agents (002, 004 and 007) are engaged on a training exercise that goes horribly wrong when 002 and 004 are assassinated. From there, we go to Bratislava, where Bond is charged with providing covering sniper fire for a defecting Russian officer, General Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé). Despite his darker and edgier makeover, Bond refuses to kill a cellist would-be assassin (Kara Milovy, played by Maryam d’Abo), identifying her as an untrained stooge.

After Koskov is brought back to the UK and apparently recaptured by the Russians, Bond finds Milovy, who turns out to be Koskov’s girlfriend, and sets off to assassinate General Leonid Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies in a subtle and excellently downplayed performance), who is implicated by Koskov to have murdered the agents in Gibraltar.

It’s all exciting stuff and the return to a Bond who relies on spying and detection to further his goals is most welcome. There’s plenty of action here, too, with a new armed Aston Martin and a fantastic toboggan run over the Swiss border in a cello case. The seriousness of Bond and the silliness of the world around him create an odd dichotomy, and the fact that Dalton insists trying to quip like Roger Moore doesn’t quite work; it feels like the script was written for Moore or at least for a camper performance, and then Dalton came in and read it as deadpan as he could. We still have some of the wackier elements from the Bond universe: grenades disguised as milk bottles, MI6 butlers trained in hand-to-hand combat, Q’s ‘ghetto blaster’ rocket launcher. The quipping aside, none of this detracts from the film; indeed, I was reminded of the early Connery films in terms of tone, which is no bad thing.

What does detract from the film, however, is the lack of a proper villain. We have a henchman, Necros (Andreas Wisniewski), and a mad American arms dealer, Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker), but much of the film is really about Bond uncovering the facts of Koskov’s defection; Whitaker in particular is underused and underdeveloped. This wouldn’t be a massive problem, but the film still manages to fit in a massive climatic battle with two opposing armies, with Bond’s team being made up of a band of Afghan rebel fighters that he happens to meet in the desert. These last scenes, exciting though they admittedly are, feel tacked on to the film, as if the writers didn’t know how to finish the story properly.

It’s a shame, because with either a different ending or a better villain—either would have done—this film would easily be in my top three Bond films. As it stands, The Living Daylights is definitely an above-average Bond film that gives me hope that Licence to Kill—Dalton’s second and final entry in the franchise—will impress me further.

Title song: Duran Duran sing The Living Daylights. Boy, these songs really sound like the 80s, don’t they?

Greatest moment: I’m a big fan of the tobogganing in a cello case scene. Otherwise, the whole pre-credits sequence gets my Gibraltar nostalgia going in a good way.

Worst moment: Dalton’s quips almost ruin the Aston Martin action sequence, but the worst part is Bond persuading a random Afghan rebel—who he happened to meet in a prison cell—to go to war against the villains.

Best gadget: The Aston Martin is pretty cool, as is Q’s ghetto blaster.

Best quote:
Kara Milovy: You were fantastic. We’re free.
James Bond:
Kara, we’re inside a Russian airbase in the middle of Afghanistan.

Most obvious product placement: Bond is sent to Harrods to buy a hamper for Koskov, because I imagine that’s exactly how a defector would be treated.

Verdict: As stated above, The Living Daylights is not quite good enough to enter the top three, but I’m going to put it in after Goldfinger—proof that, flaws and all, this is still a great film.

  1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (dir. Peter Hunt, 1969)
  2. From Russia With Love (dir. Terence Young, 1963)
  3. The Spy Who Loved Me (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1977)
  4. Goldfinger (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1964)
  5. The Living Daylights (dir. John Glen, 1987)
  6. Live And Let Die (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1973)
  7. For Your Eyes Only (dir. John Glen, 1981)
  8. Dr No (dir. Terence Young, 1962)
  9. You Only Live Twice (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1967)
  10. The Man With The Golden Gun (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1974)
  11. Octopussy (dir. John Glen, 1983)
  12. Thunderball (dir. Terence Young, 1965)
  13. A View To A Kill (dir. John Glen, 1985)
  14. Diamonds Are Forever (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1971)
  15. Moonraker (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1979)

Next up, things get even more serious in Licence To Kill.