Bondathon #15: The Living Daylights (1987)

Posted: April 1, 2016 in Movie Review
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Living Daylights (1987)

Director: John Glen

Starring: Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Joe Don Baker, John Rhys-Davies, Art Malik, Jeroen Krabbé

This is MUCH more like it! After struggling through the last two Bond pictures, anyone with enough sense in their head would be hoping for the series to go in a new and exciting direction. With 1987’s “The Living Daylights,” that is precisely what you get. Instead of a visibly aging punster, Agent 007 is now once again infused with youth and brutality. This is a James Bond that you don’t want to piss off. As such, this version of Bond was ahead of his time even when painted into a story that is firmly rooted in the 1980’s.

We catch up with James Bond (Timothy Dalton) in Czechoslovakia as he is assigned to assist in the safe transport to Austria of defecting Soviet General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé). Though the mission is a success, Bond receives some flack for his instinctive judgment call in shooting to frighten, not kill a female sniper. From Koskov’s debriefing, it is learned that the KGB’s policy of ‘Smiert Spionom’ (‘Death to Spies’), thought to have been discontinued, has been revived by the new head of the KGB, General Leonid Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies). Shortly after, Koskov’s protection detail is eliminated and he is thought to have been taken by the KGB back to Moscow. As a result, Bond’s new mission is to find Pushkin in Tangier and assassinate him.

With the female assassin still on his mind, Bond detours to Czechoslovakia where he finds the girl, cello player Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo). Kara, it seems, is more of a pawn than Bond had first assumed. Not only were the bullets in Kara’s gun actually blanks, not only was the entire defection by Koskov a ruse, but Kara herself is in fact Koskov’s girlfriend. Bond puts 2 and 2 together and figures that Koskov had set Kara up to be killed while he made his getaway. The only thing he can’t figure out is why. Having already lied to Kara about being a friend of Koskov’s, Bond also uses his powers of persuasion to ignite a relationship between himself and Kara. They travel to Vienna, Austria, where Bond’s MI6 contact informs him of the history between Koskov and American arms dealer Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker). Shortly after, Bond’s contact is murdered, and another note with the words ‘Smiert Spionom’ is left behind. Incensed, Bond informs Kara that they are leaving for Tangier not tomorrow, not in a few days, but RIGHT NOW.

If you don’t pay strict attention during this next part of the movie, you’re likely to find yourself hopelessly confused throughout the remainder of its running time. In Tangier, a still very pissed off Bond puts a gun to the head of Pushkin and demands answers. Pushkin denies any involvement in the notes bearing ‘Smiert Spionom’ or the corresponding murders. He also alludes to the fact that he’s likely to be a marked man following a recent meeting with Whitaker, during which Pushkin had canceled an arms deal between Koskov and Whitaker. With that in mind, Bond and Pushkin stage the latter’s assassination, just in time to throw off the henchman that Koskov had sent to do the job.

Returning to Kara, Bond discovers that she has foolishly contacted Koskov, who has identified Bond as a KGB agent sent to kill him and has instructed her to drug Bond. As a reward for her compliance with his wishes, Koskov has Kara imprisoned in Afghanistan (where the Soviets were conducting an invasion at the time) alongside Bond. They escape, of course, and also free a fellow inmate who turns out to be a leader in the Mujahideen by the name of Kamran Shah (Art Malik). There, Bond discovers Koskov’s big scheme. Koskov will purchase large quantities of opium from the Mujahideen, but keep the profits from the drugs to himself in order to supply the Soviet army with weapons and buy even more guns and ammo from Whitaker. Bond, clever chap that he is, takes care of both problems within minutes of one another. First, he drops a bomb on a bridge to give Shah and his troops a big victory over the Soviets, and then he crashes the cargo plane full of opium… albeit only because it ran out of gas. Bond then returns to Whitaker’s place in Tangier, where an intense gun battle results in Whitaker’s death. Koskov, meanwhile, is placed under arrest by Pushkin.

What would otherwise be a forgettable and rather dated entry in the James Bond series is propped up a bit by the strength of its lead actor. Even a bland, inoffensive story is an improvement over the two straight trainwrecks to which Bond fans had been subjected. Timothy Dalton is exactly the man the series needed as James Bond at this point in time. Yet I still see him as being highly under-appreciated. With Dalton on board, Bond got his balls back. What I mean when I say that Dalton’s Bond was ahead of his time is that he is something of a template for Daniel Craig’s much-celebrated take on the character. Dalton Bond largely takes things seriously, gets downright personal when the situation calls for it, follows his instinct more often than the direct orders of his superiors, and will tear his enemy a new asshole as soon as look him in the eye. This is Bond as I wanted to see him depicted in 1971’s “Diamonds Are Forever.” Though not my favorite version of the character, Dalton’s is definitely one which I respect.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Nice, CEWIII. Very well written and to the point.This one I would enjoy seeing sometime, given my reasons for disliking the Moore films, and loving the Craig films!

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