Director: John Glen
Cast: Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Jereon Krabbe, Joe Don Baker, Art Malik, John Rhys Davies, Andreas Wisniewski, Desmond Llewelyn, Caroline Bliss
Plot: Bond (Dalton) helps a KGB agent defect, uncovering a plot from General Leonard Pushkin (Davies) an old friend of Bond’s, to assassinate all foreign spies.
And finally, we find ourselves stumbling out of the dark ages of Roger Moore and into the more appealing era of Timothy Dalton’s twin Bond movies. While Moore wasn’t as bad as he is made out to be, there is something satisfying about Dalton taking the character of Bond and injecting the darkness into proceedings.
The Living Daylight’s focuses on a plot started by Stalin in the Second World War, where the KGB focused their resources onto killing British spies. After helping a Russian General, Koskov, defect from the Soviet Union, MI6 confirm that these events are happening and the man behind this horrific plot is General Pushkin. Bond knows Pushkin and struggles to come to terms with this man being so cold-blooded when it comes to such aggressive tactics. Before they can wrap their head around this turn of events, Koskov is recaptured by the KGB. MI6 order Bond to kill Pushkin immediately, but Bond cannot help but hesitate. Something is wrong here. His only lead is the novice sniper sent to kill Koskov during his defection, evidence that sticks out like a sore thumb. Bond tracks this female sniper down and tries to use her to figure out what exactly is going on, before MI6 end up making a terrible mistake that could start a war.
Before we begin, let’s discuss Dalton. Timothy Dalton’s casting instantly raises alarm bells, because he only ever made the two films. After Moore’s record seven, doubt settles in about the actor’s performance. However, Dalton brings Bond back to a gritty realism and it is refreshing to see a proper Shakespearean actor handle the role of Bond (Connery was a novice at the time, Lazenby was a model trying acting for the first time, Moore was Moore). Right from the bat, Dalton’s Bond is clearly a different breed of the character than we have seen before. Dalton is dark and brooding, playing his cards close to his chest. While Moore only ever gave you an insight into his dark history built over the previous films, when the script asked him to, Dalton always keeps that past on display. Bond’s dead wife is never mentioned, but you can almost see Dalton picturing her, every time his eyes flash viciously. I think the world wasn’t quite ready for this kind of Bond though. I can see some of Daniel Craig’s performance in Dalton’s, suggesting that the Living Daylights was meant to be the ground-breaking reboot, but sadly before the audiences were ready for a big change. It is handled smoothly here with the same camp Moore set-pieces (using a cello case as an escape vehicle), surrounding this darker central character, but perhaps License to Kill, the next 007 movie, fell too far into the serious side of things, meaning that Dalton was forced to be switched for the more crowd-pleasing Pierce Brosnan. This is a shame, because Dalton handles the fun side of things just as well as the darker moments. He is good with the one-liners, can get his way around a fight sequence better than his predecessors and his chemistry with the Bond girls has been much better. With Moore and Connery, the girls fell for James, because that was the job of a Bond girl. Here, Dalton’s romantic side is so natural, it is easy to see why these women fall for him so easily. While I prefer the Brosnan and Craig era more, I have to admit that Timothy Dalton was easily the best Bond.
Sadly, the Living Daylights as a movie is a little messy, slightly dampening Dalton’s strong performance. Saying that, I liked it more than I remember. The conspiracy element is good, although the twist is given away too soon. Some of the set-pieces are excellent, Bond and Necros fighting in the plane being one of my favourite battles in the entire franchise. John Glen has a good eye for tension too, using every trick he has learned making these Bond movies to give Dalton everything he needs for a strong debut. When the action settles in the Middle-East, we could argue it takes away a lot of the Bond charm, but with this last viewing, I think the sequence is kept short enough to not overstay its welcome. While the pacing is a little off, the specific scenes are remarkably well directed, so we feel every beat of the action, which we could argue Moore’s movies only handled some of the time. I still stand by my impression that the Living Daylights is only remembered as fondly as it is because it was the first film without Roger Moore for quite some time, but after watching this recently, I will concede my original dislike for The Living Daylights and admit that this does make for a good action movie at the end of the day. Bond fans won’t be disappointed.
There are just too many little things wrong with it. The easiest problem is the two villains here not really being that good. While Necros is a great henchman, the two mastermind figures feel like scheming criminals rather than evil geniuses. Whenever they are bickering on screen, we instantly know that this is a case of Bond going through the motions, catching up with them and then stopping them. Yes, every Bond is like that, but there not even a hint of doubt whether Bond will stop them or not. Maybe this is because the final plan turns out to be little more than a drug deal and a political game in the Soviet Union. Yes, the ticking bomb has been overdone, but without some massive climax to the bad guy’s plan, it seems a little lacking. When the Middle-East section is done, there is a small action sequence to show what happens to the two bad guys and then we are finished. It is a weak ending and gives the Living Daylights the impression it was a bit rushed. I imagine most of the film’s pre-production went into casting a Bond, rather than actually making a story for him to have when he got onto the set. It’s a shame, because when we only have two Daltons to get through, you don’t want one of them to be a half-hearted effort.
Final Verdict: Dalton is terrific as James Bond, channelling the anti-hero that Moore never understood. Sadly, the Living Daylights is lacking in places, which hurts his legacy on the Bond franchise.