James Bond Retrospective: Review of THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS

(I am a pretty huge James Bond fan, so with the new SKYFALL coming out November 9th, I thought it would be cool to re-watch every Bond movie and review them on the site, counting down the days until the latest one is released)

I vividly remember seeing this one in the theater when I was 11 years old, mainly because I got in a major car accident after the showing.  But I also really enjoyed the movie.  Throughout the years since, I have always regarded this as one of the best.  I find myself defending it, as many people I talk to don’t care for it as much as I do.  The last time I saw it was a few years ago, and I still thought highly of it.  So, I was hoping my opinion would remain the same.

Bond is asked to assist a Soviet named Koskov to defect to the United States.  That night, Kara, a female assassin tries to kill Koskov, but Bond recognizes that she was just a decoy.  You see, Koskov isn’t really defecting.  007 befriends Kara, posing as Koskov’s friend (to find out more about the situation), and the two head off the Afghanistan.  Bond later uncovers a plot that has Koskov is smuggling guns with a crazy arms dealer named Whitaker.  But this isn’t like any other mission, the secret agent starts to grow strong feelings for Kara, which could further jeopardize plans.

The Pre-title sequence is the perfect way to introduce newcomer, Timothy Dalton.  M briefs 3 double-0 agents about their current training exercise, using paint pellets instead of live ammunition.  Once the mission starts, we see one agent get tagged.  But when the second agent gets hit with paint, he turns around and shoots the guy with real bullets.  He’s a double agent!  It’s up to Bond to stop him.  The bad guy tries to escape in a jeep, but Bond jumps on top of it and a thrilling chase/fight ensues.  It ends with Bond setting fire to the jeep, driving it off a cliff, and then parachutes to safety while the bad guy blows up in mid-air.  Hell yeah!  007 lands on a yacht with a sexy lady on board.  He uses her phone to call into headquarters, and says that he’ll report in one hour.  Then when the lady offers him champagne, without skipping a beat, Bond changes his mind, “Better make that two”.  Then the solid opening titles start, with a pretty darn good Bond song by New Wave artist a-Ha.

Yes, I still really enjoyed this one.  While there isn’t a terrible amount of action, it makes up for it with one of the strongest storylines in the series, not to mention the only Bond movie that has strong romantic chemistry.  The defection scene generates some suspense as Kara tries to kill Koskov, but Bond shoots the gun out of her hand.  I love the way they get the soviet out of the country, through a pipeline.  Okay, so the husky (but still, somehow sexy to me) Russian distracting an old guard by burying his head in her busty cleavage is stuff from a Roger Moore movie, but it’s still pretty awesome.  There’s a great Q briefing scene, and love the car he gets.  It’s been awhile since we’ve scene some awesome gadgets, like missiles and lasers.  There’s a bit more sking, but I thought it was cool how Bond and Kara escape by riding on her Cello case.  I also loved the exploding milk bottles.  Awesome!

The middle portion builds on the relationship between Bond and Kara, which is surprisingly charming, romantic and compelling.  This isn’t what you would normally expect out of a Bond movie, but I think it’s one of the film’s strengths.  The final portion has Bond becoming allies with a sort of middle eastern mercenary (or whatever) and with his help they try to stop Koslov shipping a bunch of Opium to Whitaker.  This sequence is one of my favorite in the entire Bond franchise.  007 is flying a plane and Kara drives in the back before they take off.  Koslov’s best henchman also hitches a ride, and him and Bond fight on a cargo net full of Opium while dangling out of the back of the plane.  No CGI here.  This is all real stunts, and it looks fantastic.

When this came out, there was a lot of criticism on Dalton’s performance, and many filmgoers rejected his portrayal of 007.  I know why too.  Because Roger Moore was so silly and goofy, that they think that’s all Bond could and should be.  Honestly, Dalton is probably a lot closer to the Ian Fleming’s version of 007.  His serious, no-nonsense approach turned many fans off, and that’s too bad.  They just weren’t ready for a serious Bond yet.  I even think if Daniel Craig’s Bond came out after A VIEW TO A KILL, it would’ve been rejected too.  Watching this movie now though, it holds up extremely well.  The tone is more dangerous, but still has some mild humor sprinkled throughout, just not the amount Moore would bring.  To me, Dalton was one of the best Bond’s and it’s a pity he was only allowed to do 2.  Maryam d’Abo as Kara makes a terrific Bond girl.  For once, she’s not a bimbo or a weakling.  She’s very feminine, but when the situation demands it, she doesn’t turn into a helpless screaming child.  There’s a lot of passion in her performance.  Jeroen Krabbe makes a good villain, as does the over the top Joe Don Baker as Whitaker.  I should also mention Andreas Wisniewski as Necros, a henchman who bares some resemblance to Dolph Lundgren.  He’s not just a dumb meathead though, even though he says very little, he appears to be pretty intelligent.  We get introduced to a new Moneypenny too, and though she’s no Lois Maxwell, she does just fine.
Also, John Rhys-Davies plays an ally to Bond, and is reliable as usual.

This was director John Glen’s first outing and it’s his best.  Getting rid of Moore seemed to be a great excuse to go into a new direction stylistically.  The pacing is tighter and the stakes are higher.  The action sequences are top-notch!  The story is one of the best.  What a great idea to make this a sort of romance as well, showing Bond’s vulnerability.  Smart move, as it made the action all the more engaging.  John Barry delivers one of his best scores in the series.  Though it’s a bit modernized for the 80’s, it by no means sounds dated.  There’s a refreshing urgency to the music.  The Pretenders also do 2 songs featured in the movie, which are great!

Finally, a James Bond movie that Ian Fleming can be proud of.  Dalton is a lean, mean and bold Bond.  Full of action and a romantic sub-plot that elevate this above most other 007 adventures.  THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS is closer in tone to the Daniel Craig movies than any of the others.  If you don’t really remember this one, I ask you to give this one another shot.  It’s not regarded as one of the best Bond’s, but it should be.  ★★★½ (out of ★★★★)

- Rated PG. Has some mostly bloodless violence, but a couple of shots of brief nudity (including side-boob) would get this a PG13 today.

- Running time: 2hrs. 10min.

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Categories: Austin Kennedy, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Reviews

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1 reply

  1. I love this one! Glad you did too.

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