James Bond January: “The Living Daylights”

Director: John Glen (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Moonraker)
Novel: Ian Fleming
Screenplay: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson
Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman
Starring: Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Jeroen Krabbé, Joe Don Baker, John Rhys-Davies
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 130 min.

This is one of many in a series of reviews that are part of the James Bond January blog-a-thon started at paragraphfilmreviews. Each day throughout the month a new review of each of the films in the 007 franchise by various bloggers, fans and critics. Enjoy!

I seem to remember pretty much everyone being put off by the Timothy Dalton evolution of James Bond when he took over for Roger Moore in 1987 with The Living Daylights. I remember being firmly within the majority at the time. Recently as I’ve surfed around the movie web sites it’s now become fashionable to claim that Dalton is actually one of the better incarnations of Bond. I have to respectfully disagree with that sentiment. But we’ll get to that.

Not having seen all of the Bond films, The Living Daylights has got to be one of the more convoluted in plot structure. The movie goes all over the place with a number of villains all seemingly after different things and so full of double cross that it almost seems Bond could simply step back, not get in the way and watch the whole affair implode on its own. To be perfectly honest, I was never quite sure who wanted what or why. This picture didn’t seem to have that quintessential, iconic villain that other 007 movies have. There’s no one villain that sticks out as really something special (like Dr. No, Le Chiffre, Jaws or even a Mr. Big or Max Zorin). Yes it’s obvious who the villains are (by the end anyway) and that Bond must defeat them, but for the life of me I can’t figure out exactly what the stakes involved are here. It’s possible that the plot is simply overly ambitious, but at well over two hours, it just becomes a mess.

One of the core problems, possibly as a result of hindsight, is that the movie is just generally not exciting or creative enough. It seems to be just going through the motions of each of the Bond conventions in order to be a Bond film, when in fact it sort of wants to be a movie of political intrigue and thrills. Had it not been called a 007 film and ignored all of those conventions and just focussed on the plot, this could’ve been a cleverly conceived political spy film. Instead, there has to be a car that shoots missiles, a daring escape down a snowy hillside (in a cello case **rolls eyes**) and forced romance. Not to mention all of the typical lines a Bond character is required to utter.

I understand that this is something in almost all of the films and a requisite for any entry, but for some reason The Living Daylights just felt like it was going through the motions and didn’t really want to invest any time or effort into making it interesting. A giant semi-truck is blocking the road – no worries, we have missiles. Boring. Again, maybe this is a symptom of me seeing an 80’s action film almost fifteen years later but there was not one iota of anything resembling exciting action in this movie.

There’s another core essential missing from this film as well: a charismatic and appealing lead. Dalton just has very little screen presence. It’s difficult to say what exactly he’s going for. Certainly more subdued, but whatever it is is it just falls flat and is really nothing of much interest to delight in with pretty much all of the other Bonds. He’s got kind of a goofy, Muppet-like grimace throughout most of the picture and when he spews his requisite lines of dialogue it feels like just going through the motions rather than presenting a character trait. The one exception to this might be the opening scene before the title credits in which Bond descends from the sky onto a boat on which a beautiful woman complains to friend via telephone that she wishes she could find a real man. Corny yes. But still fun.

While I found most of the movie to be eye-rolling stupid and dull, there are a couple of interesting things about this entry in the Bond series however. While it’s schlocky, this is a Bond film (like many others) that truly spans the globe. From London to Austria to Kiev to Tangiers to Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan we really get to see a lot of set locations of varying characters from these regions. This jet setting is actually what brings about the other interesting thing about the film and really is the only thing that makes finishing the film worthwhile. Being the 1980’s, The Russians are the bad guys while the Mujahideen (a group Osama Bin Laden once rubbed shoulder with) are the allies to our heroes. Watching in 2011, this sort of felt like opposite world and gave the movie a spark and an interesting angle to latch on to.

The movie isn’t outright terrible it’s simply a dull caricature of a Bond film. 80’s action films very often all had the same feel and style to them and looking back at this Bond film it really isn’t much different. That wouldn’t normally be a bad thing as I quite like a lot of 80’s action pictures. The problem is that this one felt like it wanted to be more, it just couldn’t seem to pull it off and therefore just looks convoluted and boring. I’ve been told that the next Dalton picture (License to Kill) is much darker and serious, so I’m semi-looking forward to checking that one out as I think it sounds like a picture more suited for Dalton’s version of the role. But judging just from this one, it’s easy to see why Dalton was let go (or quit, I’m not a Bond scholar) after only two attempts.


Andrew James
Podcaster. Tech junkie. Movie lover. Also games and guitar. I dig music.