Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"The Living Daylights" (1987)

Starring Timothy Dalton, Joe Don Baker and Maryam d'Abo
Written by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson
Directed by John Glen
Rated PG - Violence, sexual themes
Running Time: 131 Minutes

James Bond (Timothy Dalton) takes a mission to help a KGB agent named Georgi Koskov (Art Malik) defect to the West.  Bond performs sniper overwatch, but when he sees the enemy sniper, his instincts tell him something is wrong.  That sniper is Kara Milovy (Maryam d'Abo), a talented cellist and definitely not a professional sniper.  He merely wounds her, then smuggles Koskov back to Britain.

Koskov informs British Intelligence in his debriefing about a new Russian program to assassinate all enemy spies, which could lead to open war between the Soviets and the West.  Soon after, Koskov is kidnapped from his British safe house, and Bond's only lead to finding him is Kara.  He discovers that Koskov promised to bring Kara with him to the West after she helped him make his defection look real.  But now Kara, as a loose end, is a target and Bond decides to protect her while investigating Koskov's real motivations.

Their journey will lead them from Hungary to Afghanistan, where Koskov has allied himself with Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker), an arms dealer hoping to supply the weapons for a coming war between the Soviets and the Afghan mujahideen, using the money from a massive opium shipment he's bought from them.

Bond is the world's only hope to stop a war between the West and the Soviets and to keep the Soviets from destroying the resistance fighters in Afghanistan.

"The Living Daylights" is the first of two films with Dalton starring as super-spy James Bond.  Dalton's take on the character is more in keeping with Connery's colder portrayals rather than Roger Moore's rather cartoonish performances.  The film itself takes itself a bit more seriously, though it has its absurd moments and bad one-liners that have become the norm for this franchise.

One thing that makes it curious, of course, is allying Bond with the mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan.  While in the 1980s when the Soviets were entrenched in their losing war with Afghanistan, I'm sure this seemed topical and exciting.  In 2012, given the current state of Afghanistan, it's just kind of weird. Still, this presents "The Living Daylights" with its climactic (and best) action sequence as Bond and the Afghanis take on Whitaker's private army at a desert air strip, and then ultimately in the skies above on a plane loaded with opium.

Dalton makes a fine Bond.  I don't think he's quite as suave as Connery, but he has the rough edge necessary to play the aspects of the character that call for him to be a bit of a cold-blooded killer and a fighter.  Some of his one-liners don't quite work, which I blame more on the script than on Dalton.

Another problem with the script is the tone that varies pretty wildly at times.  Most of the film is kept pretty serious, but occasionally dips into some really awkward territory, especially during a centerpiece car chase which is loaded with bad one liners and silly jokes.  For example, at one point during the chase, Bond loses a tire on his car and uses the rim to cut a circle around an enemy car on the ice, which makes a buzz-saw noise.  Later, Bond and Kara sled through a border checkpoint waving a passport and shouting, "We have nothing to declare!"  It's all very silly, but doesn't seem to fit with the tone of the rest of the movie.

"The Living Daylights" is a decent entry in the James Bond franchise, but it has some tonal issues.  The action sequences are cool, especially the opening and the climax which features Bond hanging on a cargo net out the back of an airplane loaded with opium.

See Also
James Bond