Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My Favorite Era: The Living Daylights (1987)

The 15th Bond film marked the debut of Timothy Dalton in the role as well as the 25th anniversary of the film series.  A classically trained actor, Dalton brought a certain brooding darkness to the role that worked pretty well, though it didn't quite catch on with the general public.  I dig his take on the character, it's a little more grounded than usual and this take was built on (and in some cases refined) by Daniel Craig in his films.

Solid cast of 80's regulars, good action, good music, the only issue is some dodgy story elements.  Let's take a closer look.
  • I have a lot of affection for this one as it's the first one I ever saw in the theater.
  • I always liked the way they introduced Dalton as Bond.  In the pre-credits scene, he;s on a training exercise with two other 00-agents and the other two just happen to bear a passing resemblance to Roger Moore and George Lazenby (the last two guys to play the role).  After one is captured and the other is killed, we get a nice huge movie star close-up of Dalton on a mountain.  It's a really great shot.
  • Equally great is the ensuing chase as Bond goes after the killer who is escaping by truck.  There's some nice property destruction and the scene ends with a nice stunt as Bond parachutes out the back of the truck before it explodes (you know, on account of the ton of explosives in it).
  • I also have to give credit to John Barry for his awesome score.  This was the last film in the series he did music for and it's a hell of a swan song.
  • Pretty good theme song by a-ha, though they fall short of the tune Duran Duran did for A View to a Kill.
  • The overall plot is fun but a little too convoluted for its own good.  As far as I can tell, General Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe) fakes a defection (complete with Bond watching his back and helping him escape) in order to frame his boss, KGB head General Pushkin (John Rhys Davies) for the murder of several agents (mainly the two seen in the opening sequence) and there's also some business about a diamonds for weapons deal he's had Koskov make with arms dealer Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker) that Pushkin changes his mind about only for Koskov to take up the deal and pay for the weapons with opium purchased from Afghanistan drug dealers with diamonds.  And he plans on keeping the money.  It's really hard to tell exactly but the film is so light and enjoyable that it pays to just not try to analyze it too hard.  Truth be told, it's really the only flaw the film has though it's a rather big one that keeps it from being perfect.
  • Dalton is quite good as Bond here, giving a performance that is nearly the complete opposite of what Moore did with the character.  He's certainly more serious and a lot more athletic.  Basically he's a more refined version of Daniel Craig's take on the role.  Craig tends to come off as more of a bastard than Dalton.
  • The humor is handled differently as well, less quips and more situational humor.  Dalton handles it pretty well.
  • I like how they weave a little Fleming into the film.  The film proper starts with Bond covering Koskov's escape by shooting at a female sniper who will turn up later.  This is taken from the short story that the film takes its title from.  A nice touch.
  • Krabbe and Baker make for a pretty decent villain team, though neither one is really great.  Krabbe is quite good at playing a total slimeball who is more than willing to screw over even his girlfriend in order (setting her up as a sniper with blank rounds in order to get her out of the way) to get what he wants.  Granted what he really wants is a little vague but still!
  • Joe Don Baker is fun as Whitaker, he's generally pretty good when playing the heavy and he gives the man a nice sneering arrogance.
  • Andreas Wisniewski is also fun as hired killer Necros.  He's a pretty good version of the silent killer trope and his fight with Bond at the end is a highlight.
  • I genuinely enjoy Maryam D'Abo as Bond Girl for the day, Kara Milovy.  Koskov's cello-playing girlfriend, she's my favorite sort of Bond Girl: basically an innocent bystander who is drawn into the over the top world Bond exists in.  She and Dalton have good chemistry and, of course, she's very easy on the eyes.
  • There are lots of little touches in the film I enjoy.  The bit in the safehouse where Koskov is being held and Bond enters with some stuff from him he bought.  The look on M's face when he sees the receipt is fun, as is Bond admitting the champagne on the list he was given wasn't that good.  Dalton is also fun whenever he and Kara have an action scene together.  Being the world's greatest secret agent can't prepare you for having to also keep an eye on a civilian, I would guess.
  • While the action throughout the film is great, I always got a kick out of the boisterous fight Necros gets into with a random agent when he single-handedly abducts Koskov from the safehouse.  It's a nifty little affair that illustrates nicely that Bond isn't the only MI6 guy who can kick ass.  Of course I've always had a soft spot for fights in kitchens, just so many tools of utter destruction to use...
  • John Rhys Davies is always fun to see and here is no different.  Pushkin is a very likable guy and the scene where Bond confronts him in his hotel room is wonderfully played.  Dalton is truly in the zone in this scene.
  • Bond getting to Kara in order to find Koskov is a nice way to get her in the plot (she was also the sniper who Bond was supposed to kill) and we also get the prerequisite big car chase as Bond evades the police in a tricked-out Aston Martin.  It's maybe my favorite scene in the entire film.
  • Apart from the car chase, Bond doesn't have much in the way of gadgets outside of an explosive keyring finder.  Pretty neat and the film weaves into the story in a nice, organic manner.
  • The film is fairly well-directed by John Glen, though the pacing slackens a little in the second act.
  • Felix Leiter turning up halfway through the film isn't really needed, though I do love that he gets Bond to him by having two attractive women bring him in.
  • Art Malik is fun as Kamran Shah, a freedom fighter who Bond teams up with.  Unlike Rambo III, this film uses the late 80's Russian occupation of Afghanistan fairly well.  It also helps that by the time the film came out, the Russians hadn't left the area yet.
  • The huge gun battle on the airbase is nicely done, I especially love the music kicking in as Kara suddenly decides to kick some ass and drive after Bond as he pilots a cargo plane.  Put it this way: a cellist who has no problem stealing a truck and knocking a random solfdier off with a punch and the windshield wipers?  That's my kind of woman!  Is it any wonder she's one of my favorite Bond Girls?
  • Koskov having one of the nastiest plane to car collisions in film history is good as well, though the only explanation I can come up with for him surviving the thing is that he's a cyborg from the future.  Admittedly, that theory could use some work.
  • As good as that sequence it, it is outclassed by the great fight between Bond and Necros on a cargo net while a bomb is ticking down to detonation in the plane.  I remember being wowed by this sequence when I was a kid and I still love it.
  • Bond's showdown with Whitaker isn't too bad, though a little more development for the bad guy would have it a better bit of action.
  • As a sidenote, for some reason all I remember from seeing this as a kid is the plane fight and the skinny guard being gunned down by Pushkin after Bond kills Whitaker.  What can I say?  I was nine!
 The Living Daylights is a slightly flawed but overall enjoyable entry in the series.  Dalton makes for a wonderful Bond, the rest of the cast does fine work and the action is top notch as always.  It's something of a forgotten gem in the series and is worth checking out.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.