James Bond – The Living Daylights (1987) REVIEW
Director: John Glen
Producer: Albert R. Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson
Writer: Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson
Based on: James Bond by Ian Fleming
Cast: Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Jeroen Krabbé, Art Malik, Joe Don Baker, Andreas Wisniewski and John Rhys-Davies
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After the release of A View To A Kill (1985), EON Productions started the process of casting a new lead actor as James Bond 007. Whether Roger Moore quit, or was let go from the role, no one will ever truly know. The part was now open for others to screen test, one of which was New Zealand actor, Sam Neil. Top pick for the role and although he did really well during screen tests, Cubby Broccoli wasn’t sold.
Cubby then remembered Timothy Dalton. Way back before Roger Moore was cast in Live And Let Die (1973), Dalton was approached for the role of Bond. At the age of only 29, Dalton felt he was too young for the character believing that Bond should be played by someone in their mid to late 30’s. He was forgotten until casting for The Living Daylights. However at the time of being approached again, Dalton was preparing to film Brenda Starr, and would be unavailable. He apologised and with that, Producers turned their gaze to up and coming star, Pierce Brosnan.
At the time, Brosnan was contracted to the TV series, Remington Steele, but since it had been only recently cancelled by NBC due to low ratings, he was free to screen test for the role of James Bond. After a rigorous period of screen-tests to make sure Brosnan was right for the part, the very announcement he would be chosen to play James Bond, (not even an official announcement) caused the ratings for Remington Steele to rise. This in turn caused NBC to give the green light for another season of the series, on the final day of the 60 day option. If another 24 hours had passed, Pierce Brosnan would’ve been 007 in 1987, instead of waiting until the mid 90’s.
Unhappy with this turn of events, Cubby Broccoli famously said “Remington Steele will not be James Bond.” Sadly for Pierce Brosnan, the news of him losing the part of 007 caused the ratings for the show to once again dip and NBC finally put the series to rest after only a handful of new episodes had been filmed.
With Brosnan now out of the lead and production delayed, Timothy Dalton was able to finish filming Brenda Starr and be available once again. He was approached for the role of James Bond 007, and this time, Dalton agreed signing his contract and moving from one film directly onto the set of The Living Daylights.
Now for the plot, and this will be a little more detailed than usual because there is a bit to cover.
After discovering a slain Double-0 Agent beside a tag; Smiert Spionom (Death to Spies), Bond is tasked with assisting Russian General, Georgi Koskov, in his defection from the Soviets. While in MI6 care, Koskov explains that head of the KGB, General Pushkin has given orders, Smiert Spionom, and M gives 007 the mission to kill Pushkin before any more Agents are killed. General Koskov is eventually kidnapped from MI6 care by an assassin, Necros, and Bond goes to find the female cellist, Kara Milovy. It was Kara who acted as the sniper during Koskov’s defection at the beginning of the film, and as it turns out, she was using blank rounds.
Now posing as Koskov’s friend, Bond takes Kara to Vienna believing not only was Koskov’s defection a ruse, but that Kara may be able to reveal the intention. Soon it’s revealed that not only is Georgi Koskov still alive, but in fact working with Necros and also working with Whitaker, an American arms dealer. They want to take Pushkin out and needed 007s help to do so because Pushkin was onto Koskov’s for illegally using state funds to buy a weapons off Whitaker.
To force Bond’s hand, another British agent is killed (RIP Saunders), which forces Bond to assassinate Pushkin. However its all a ruse to make Koskov out himself and his real plans. Kara turns against Bond believing him to be KGB, and both are eventually captured and given over to the Russians in Afghanistan by Koskov. Upon escaping, Kamran Shah, leader of the Mujahideen, Bond discovers that Koskov is using Soviet money to buy opium from the Mujahideen and will sell it to make enough money to buy Soviet weapons, and weapons from Whitaker with enough left over to keep themselves. Help from Kamran allows Bond to sabotage the opium and steals the plane escaping Afghanistan and leaving Koskov behind. After a brief duel with Necros (RIP), 007 goes after and kills Whitaker, and Koskov is arrested by General Pushkin.
Whether you’re a long time fan, or casual viewer, The Living Daylights has one complicated plot. It can be tough to follow unless you’re really paying attention, and even then, it can still be a struggle. But I believe it is one of the strongest James Bond film plots in a long time. There is no world domination, and no unbelievable plans for causing World War III, just a corrupt General and an assassination with plenty of lies and manipulation thrown in.
Richard Maibaum, with the series since Dr. No and bar a few absences here and there, he continues to turn in a solid and polished script. Michael G. Wilson also receives writing credit, but it’s impossible to determine which of the pair was responsible for what. Needless to say, it holds up. Take Bond out of the script, and it’s a still an entertaining adventure. The twists and turns can be a little jarring leaving me unsure if Bond really knows what Koskov is up too, but apart from that, I’m always sold.
John Glen returns to the directors chair for his fourth outing and gives us his finest effort to this point. If you weren’t sold on his directing before, you will be now. A strong story and actors help to move everything along easily. His timing during the action feels absolutely spot on, and John even manages to make the romantic scenes feel like they have been ripped right out of a romantic comedy.
This of course is helped tremendously by the acting talent on hand. Maryam d’Abo had her brush with the 007 franchise when she was used as Tatiana during casting on For Your Eyes Only. Obviously she made an impact on producers and was given a chance in A View To A Kill for the role of Pola Ivanova. That didn’t work out, but Maryam was again called upon for Kara Milovy and snatched the role. Her beautiful looks and culturally mixed accent make her one of the better Bond girls in recent films. She also holds the film as one of the only women Bond beds. Yes, there is the woman on the boat, but since the fear of AIDS was a very real and concerning issue in the 80’s, this was a conscious choice by all to keep 007 with one woman. Kara doesn’t play the useless woman role here, instead she gets a little more involved in the action, manages to help Bond and even brings her cello along for the ride. I loved her chemistry alongside Dalton and couldn’t help but laugh at the visible frustration on Bond’s face when dealing with Kara sometimes. Best part of all, she is completely oblivious to these looks and continues on. Love it.
Now where this film differs from other 007 films in the series is the number of villains all fighting to be top dog. Usually I’d say that Koskov is the main bad of the film, but Whitaker is the final battle but then Necros gives James the most trouble. All three roles are so amazingly rich in this film. First we have Koskov as played by Jeroen Krabbé, Dutch film star who brings so much acting experience it puts me to shame I haven’t seen more of his work. Koskov in the film is a lying manipulator and plays Kara, Bond and the whole of MI6. And you know what, he is so charming and likeable, I’d probably be just as fooled. Jeroen has a quality to him, an almost childlike personality for the first few scenes, and then once his true motivations are revealed, the character just completely changes. He goes from laughable and friendly, to cold-blooded and still as equally charming.
Although his capture at the end of the film has always left me questioning how an explosion point-blank doesn’t kill him. Especially considering both his vehicle and person were engulfed in flames. I wonder if he was meant to be killed at his point, but added an extra few minutes to the character because they thought he was a likeable villain.
Moving onto the American arms dealer ‘General’ Brad Whitaker. Joe Don Baker plays this guy as a complete lunatic. Obsessed with weapons and war, he considers ‘butchers’ of war to be surgeons and constantly seems to be running the show. Or at least that’s how it comes across in the film. Baker is completely serviceable here, and plays the part a little over the top when needed, but never falling into outrageous. My main complaint is I’m never sure who is in charge. Having his battle with Bond at the end only makes it seem he is the big bad, but the whole film puts it down as Koskov.
If Koskov is the brains and Whitaker the mouth piece, then clearly Necros is the brawn. German born Andreas Wisniewski, is an absolute killer in the role of Necros. Think the likes of Grant in From Russia With Love, and you get the idea. Being a former dancer, Wisniewski brings so much physicality to Necros, he manages to both look believable and also sell his covers at all times. What I only noticed upon this latest viewing, is how much the character Agent 47 from the Hitman video game series reminds me of Necros here. Both use disguises and covers to gain access to restricted areas. Both have perfect physical builds. Both seldom speak. Both use an ice box/freezer box to hide their victims. Both change cover to adapt to their situation and both are assassins, and lets not forget the wires used for strangulation. Andreas Wisniewski embodies this type of character so well, and has the look of a killer, it is no wonder he does just an excellent job.
I just adore the character of Necros and would’ve been happy to see more of him featured in The Living Daylights. Each time he was on-screen, I feared for Bond and those around him because you just knew Necros his target and would succeed. One of the best moments is when he kills Saunders by rigging a glass door. The moment doesn’t feature Necros that much, but his presence is all over the scene and unfortunately it comes just after Saunders has won Bond (and our) respect. You’re left dreading the inevitable fate of Saunders as soon as you hear Necros’ theme kick in.
Time for James Bond himself. As mentioned earlier, Timothy Dalton was offered the role of James Bond way back in 1973, but he believed Bond should be played by an actor more experienced and aged. Thankfully when offered again, Dalton excepted the role. As James Bond, I don’t think you could ask for anyone to embody the character better. In recent years, people have praised Daniel Craig for his realistic and brutal portrayal as Secret Agent 007, but when you watch The Living Daylights, you can easily see that Dalton was already bringing that same down to earth approach to the screen.
When coming onboard the picture, the script was rewritten to better allow Dalton’s acting to really take focus. Along with years of stage, TV and film credits under his belt, Dalton brought the character of 007 firmly back to his roots. A hard-edged spy with no time to mess around. People often claim Dalton stripped Bond of the humour, but thankfully upon watching The Living Daylights over and over again this month, it was great to see his very subtle comedic timing coming through. He may not have the comedy at the forefront, but he clearly knows how to bounce off his co-stars on-screen without over powering anyone.
In past reviews, I have taken the time to thank all the stunt performers involved in the James Bond franchise. Without them, we wouldn’t have such amazing images throughout film history. The stunts always look top-notch and unfortunately during the final Roger Moore movies, it was completely noticeable that his double was taking up more screen time. With Dalton on board, we get a return to seeing the actor be the stunt man. Don’t get me wrong, I know full well that his stunt double was involved heavily during the action sequences, but Dalton was always willing, and sometimes, able to perform them himself. Listening to the audio commentary, it was pleasing to hear John Glen talk about Dalton and how Cubby Broccoli screamed at the top of his lungs when seeing him hanging from the Jeep between takes. Timothy was obviously wanting to be as involved as humanly possible, but for insurance reasons, stunt doubles had to take over. I guess what I’m trying to say, is how refreshing it is to see the actor on-screen.
What I truly find fascinating about Dalton’s Bond are the little subtleties to his take on the character. When entering the building where he sets up his snipers position, Dalton takes that extra moment to examine the room. Much like a ‘real’ spy would when entering a building…or at least that’s how I think it. His screen time alongside Maryam is great too. Since this is the only main Bond girl, both actors share plenty of screen time with each other and Dalton never looks bored with her. As a matter of fact, there are times when it really does look like he is having a lot of fun in the role. Now, why am I so surprised at all this? Because in the back of my mind, I can see hear people from my youth telling me how crap Dalton was as Bond, “sucked the joy out of the franchise,” and I don’t ever see that on-screen.
Timothy Dalton has as much charisma in his performance and really has fun with the role. He handles all the action thrown at him and appears so much more calculating than any Bond actor before him. For the first time in the franchise, I really do believe that Dalton’s Bond, is the only one that really sells the assassin part, of being an action spy. This guy means business.
I loved his scenes with Kara and the moments interacting with Koskov. The interrogation of Pushkin in his apartment room was brilliant to watch showing that Bond needs to get the job done, any way possible. And also the scenes toward the third act of the film with Kamran Shah, both actors play off each other really well. Love Art Malik in the role, and good to see him here before his turn in True Lies.
To finish off, The Living Daylights is easily one of the best 007 films I have reviewed in the last few months. It was a pleasure to watch Timothy Dalton portray the secret agent on scene and was never bored, often watching the film on repeat during the month. John Barry brings his talents to the James Bond franchise for the final time, and does so with one of his best here. It’s sad to see him go, but we will move on next month. For now, I highly recommend The Living Daylights to anyone that is after a fun James Bond movie, and for those doubters, just give Timothy Dalton one more chance, because everything Daniel Craig does, Dalton does better.
James Bond will return in Licence To Kill