John Glen, 1987
Starring: Timothy Dalton, John Rhys-Davies, Maryam d'Abo, Jeroen Krabbe, Art Malik
While I have a lot of love for Timothy Dalton's Bond, I have to admit that The Living Daylights is one of my least favorite films in the franchise. The fifteenth Bond film and the first starring Dalton as 007 is clearly an attempt to revitalize the series and bring back a serious, action-oriented focus, which is a success in some ways, but as a Bond film, The Living Daylights is deeply flawed.
Koskov, a Soviet general, defects and requests Bond's protection. Bond stops an attractive blonde sniper and cellist from assassinating Koskov, also realizing she is not a professional and something is suspicious. While under the protection of the British government, Koskov discloses a KGB plan to kill as many British and American agents as possible, supposedly headed by KGB boss General Pushkin. Koskov then disappears, allegedly recaptured or killed by KGB assassins. Bond goes back to Czechoslovakia (remember when it was still called that?) for the cellist, Kara, who is actually Koskov's naive girlfriend. The two follow his increasingly dangerous trail across Europe and into the Middle East, which leads them to a confrontation with an arms dealer in Afghanistan.
The direction is reasonably solid, as this was helmed by the trustworthy John Glen, who has the distinction of being the most prolific Bond director to date. The title and basic plot is taken from the Fleming story of the same name, but unfortunately diverges from some of the normal Bond traits. Maryam d'Abo as Kara all but ruins the film. She is the only significant female character, but is unmistakably not a Bond girl. She's naive, irritating and, despite being beautiful, is utterly sexless. Much like the rest of the film. There's an amazing intro where Bond falls from the sky via parachute and lands on the boat of a bored woman in a bikini, but this is the only hint of sexual conquest in the entire film.
There is also a sad lack of humor. We get a few one-liners from Dalton, but his serious, sensitive Bond seems uncomfortable with the normal zingers delivered with aplomb by Connery or Moore. Saunders, an M16 agent assisting Bond, provides a little comic relief with his obvious intolerance for Bond's shenanigans, but is underused. There are some nice appearances from the standard, reoccurring characters like M, Q (pointing out an in-development ghetto blaster), Moneypenny and even Felix Leiter, who kidnaps Bond through the clever use of party girls in a convertible, but it feels like these supporting characters are rushed through the film as quickly as possible.
While there are some excellent action sequences, the inevitable car chase scene is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever seen and ends with Bond and Kara using a cello case to sled down a mountain and over the Austrian border. The beautiful Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante is unfortunately out of place and Bond seems to grimace every time he uses the special features.
Last in my list of major complaints is that there is no focused villain. The alleged KGB defector Koskov is lazy, gluttonous and would rather lounge by the pool making out with babes than pursue any real scheme. The American arms dealer is equally annoying and has maybe one full minute of screen time. The main henchman is a blonde Russian named Necros who moonlights as a revolutionary. The only blonde Russian I want to see kicking ass is Red Grant.
There are some reasons to see the film, though. As I said, The Living Daylights attempted to take the series in a new direction, exploring realism and more serious themes like espionage and Cold War politics that have mostly been ignored since From Russia with Love. The script is not afraid to present a sympathetic Bond, who can instantly turn into the icy, sociopathic spy, but also has a softer, romantic side. There is a likable, honorable KGB director, played by the sassy John Rhys-Davies. My favorite sequences in the film are shot in Afghanistan and involve some very lively Mujahideen rebels. Art Malik's Kamran Shah is one of the best characters in the film and I wish he had been introduced earlier than the final quarter.
The Living Daylights is available as a single disc Special Edition DVD from MGM, though I am reviewing the two disc Ultimate Edition, which is also included in volume one of the Ultimate Edition box set. The extensive special features include two documentaries and an audio commentary from John Glen and various cast and crew members. There’s also a Blu-ray.
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