Friday, December 12, 2014

#1,579. The Living Daylights (1987)

Directed By: John Glen

Starring: Timothy Dalton, Maryam d'Abo, Jeroen Krabbé

Tag line: "Enigmatic. Dangerous... Always living on the edge"

Trivia: This was last Bond film to be scored by John Barry

Released in 1987, The Living Daylights marked the beginning of yet another era in the history of James Bond, with Timothy Dalton taking the reins as the cinema’s most time-honored secret agent. More than a new lead, though, The Living Daylights also changed the way filmmakers would approach Bond and his adventures in the coming years, taking 007 in a new direction while simultaneously paying tribute to the character’s colorful past.

Following a brief but violent training exercise at a British facility on Gibraltar, agent James Bond (Dalton) heads to Czechoslovakia to help KGB General Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) defect to the west. After injuring a female cellist who doubles as a KGB assassin (allegedly sent to eliminate the General), Bond completes his mission and safely transports Koskov to England, where he tells “M” (Robert Brown) and the rest of MI6 about a covert operation that KGB general Pushkin (John Ryhs-Davies) has undertaken to eliminate enemy spies (allegedly, two of Bond’s accomplices were among its first victims, killed during the exercise on Gibraltar). Shortly after revealing this information, Koskov is recaptured by enemy agents (a major embarrassment for MI6, seeing as the abduction took place at one of their safe houses). But as Bond delves deeper into the matter, he finds not all is as it seems to be, starting with the so-called “assassin”, cellist Kara Milovy (Maryam D'Abo), who he learns is not connected in any way to the KGB. In fact, she’s Koskov’s girlfriend! What’s more, a well-known American arms dealer named Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker) is somehow mixed up in the whole affair, leaving James Bond and his associates with more questions than they have answers. Making stops in Vienna, Tangier, and even Afghanistan, Bond slowly pieces together this complex puzzle of deception, and in so doing uncovers a plot more sinister than he originally anticipated.

Timothy Dalton is dead serious throughout The Living Daylights, a definite change of pace from the previous incarnation of 007 (aka Roger Moore), whose films were sometimes as humorous as they were exciting. Dalton’s no-nonsense approach to the role marked a shift back to the series’ roots, when, in movies like Dr. No and From Russia With Love, Bond was much more brutal, relying on his fists as opposed to sense of humor to get the job done. A Shakespearian trained actor, Dalton handles the part well, and is perfectly convincing in the action scenes (during the training exercise that opens the film, Bond ends up on top of a speeding jeep, trying to capture the assassin who just took out his two associates. To his credit, Dalton performed this stunt himself). In addition, Dalton’s 007 takes a more conservative approach to the opposite sex; aside from Kara Milovy, Bond’s only other conquest comes at the end of the pre-title sequence, when he “drops in” on a wealthy, bikini-clad babe as she’s relaxing on her yacht. Reflecting the era in which it was made (when serious issues like nuclear arms and the AIDS virus dominated the nightly news), The Living Daylights gives us a down-to-earth Bond who’s more interested in getting the job done than he is in having a good time.

There are other changes as well; gone is Lois Maxwell as the love-struck Ms. Moneypenny, who in The Living Daylights is played by Caroline Bliss (seeing as Maxwell had been a Bond mainstay since Dr. No, this was the first time another actress stepped into the role). Also, unlike previous outings, Bond’s adversaries in The Living Daylights aren’t as elaborate as Blofeld, Goldfinger, or even A View to a Kill’s Max Zorin. This time out, 007 is facing off against Russian Generals and American arms dealers, yet another reflection of the times (Baker’s Whitaker is the closest we get to a “classic” Bond villain, what with his collection of wax military figures from history, all of which look exactly like him). Of course, not everything is new: Desmond Llewellyn is back as “Q”, who supplies Bond with some unusual gadgets, like the keychain that emits a knock-out gas whenever the agent whistles a few bars of a specific song (this is especially handy later on, when Bond finds himself in an Afghan jail). Most thrilling of all, though, is the return of the Aston Martin, the luxury car equipped with all sorts of neat extras that saved Bond’s life in movies like Goldfinger and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (as expected, it does the same for the “new 007” on a couple of occasions).

As for the “Bond Girl”, Maryann D’Abo is both beautiful and convincing as the somewhat naïve Kara, and the relationship that develops between her and Bond is totally believable (unlike other films, where all 007 had to do was wink at a woman to get her into bed, Bond’s romance with Kara evolves slowly). What's more, the action scenes in The Living Daylights are out of this world. Aside from the opening sequence on Gibraltar, which gets the movie off on the right foot, the last act features a number of thrilling moments, including one where Bond, after fighting off Whitaker’s man Necros (Andreas Wisniewski), dangles hundreds of feet in the air from the back of a plane, hanging on for dear life to a net that could break away at any moment.

If The Living Daylights has one drawback, it’s that the story is more complex than it needed to be (along with a drug-related subplot I found completely unnecessary, Bond teams up with Afghan Freedom Fighters who have their own beef with both the Russians and Whitaker, thus giving the film yet another group of characters to follow). That aside, The Living Daylights is an enjoyable Bond outing, as well as the movie that set the series on a path I hoped it would follow for some time to come.

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