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.



  1. Funny, as I consider this to be one of the best Bond Adventures they ever made. I love this movie and its variety of locations.

    “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.”

    A great metaphor for the Spy-Game, and one the Coens used mightily in BURN AFTER READING, this only makes THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS a BETTER film!

    • Except it was boring. Tack on the most dull performance from any Bond to date (and the villains) and it was hard to actually bother finishing the movie. The Coens make it fun and exciting and have memorable characters that are worth looking at and taking in as people. This one just fell flat at every turn. I’ll take Christopher Walken in View to a Kill over anything in this movie.

      Best Bond movie ever? You and I have different takes on what makes a good Bond my friend. Of the ones I’ve seen, I’d say this is one of the worst.

  2. The above photo is more “GRINCH-Y”

    Unfortunately, LICENSE TO KILL is in the running for worst Bond movie ever made (although, fun shark kill in there, no frickin’ lasers to be seen however). These other ‘worst bond flicks’ is Die Another Day (really really really bad CGI) and You Only Live Twice (seriously, the Bond Franchise fucked up NINJAS!)…which makes this really weird that I have no Roger Moore films on the list, at least they are always fun.

  3. Wow – I’m completely on board with Kurt on this one.

    Timothy Dalton – excellent. Living Daylights – a grand adventure, the last of the original grand adventures from the Bond folks.

    License to Kill – a real piece of shit.

  4. Say what you will about the p-o-s GREENZONE, Jason Isaac’s was pretty bad-ass in it. I like him better as a tough guy (shaved head, optional) than as the typical suave Bond. Dalton trumps Isaacs. Your move, ‘Drew.

    • I got nothing. If you genuinely find this movie a fun and exciting adventure, than more power to you. All I can say is we look for different things from our Bond films.

      I’d still like to know specifically what elements of this movie make it the best Bond film ever made. I mean the dialogue is endlessly dreary and eye rolling, the acting is garbage, it’s way too long, it feels like a cliche of itself and nothing exciting ever happens. I seriously don’t understand what’s to love about this movie.

      So really? This is a better movie than A View to a Kill? Octopussy? Casino Royale? Dr. No? Live and Let Die? Man with the Golden Gun? Try rewatching this again, it’s heartless.

      • recent email from a fellow blogger:

        “I was just reading your Living Daylights review. It’s way too long and Joe Don Baker makes a pretty terrible villain. Regardless of what the talkbacks say, I think License to Kill is a fantastic Bond film and fits Dalton much better – and You Only Live Twice is my favorite Connery Bond. It may have ninjas, but I think it was the first time they were used in any English film. Plus, it has Donald Pleasance in a base hidden under a volcano. You can’t go wrong with that.”

  5. I haven’t seen this for ages, but I can remember it being ok, not the best, but far from the worst. Don’t hold your breath for License To Kill – it tries hard to be a more raw, personal Bond, but fails miserably.

    Die Another Day is the worst Bond for me. A couple of the Roger Moore ones are incredibly stupid, but they’re still fun in an 80’s action movie sort of way.

    As for Kurt’s You Only Live Twice hate, I disagree. It’s the first really silly Bond and Connery makes for a hilariously bad undercover Japanese business man, but it’s a lot of fun and you’ve got to love the hidden volcano enemy hideout.

  6. Dang! I forgot Joe Don Baker. Who is awesome. In a strange case of double-casting He is also the CIA agent in the Brosnan era Bonds.

    As to You Only Live Twice, I find it endlessly hilarious that James Bond’s cover isn’t a rich Banker, or a Media Mogul, or even an arms dealer, but … Dun, Dun, Dun, An MSG Salesman! FOOD FLAVOUR ENHANCERS! Badass!

  7. P.S. for someone (myself) who is really too much of a fan of this mega-franchise. I happen to have a lot of ‘instant access’ trivia and bits that are wasting my brain-space.

    • That’s maybe the other thing. I guess I’m not a true man’s man as I don’t really find any of the Bond films to be amazing pieces of cinema. A couple of them are mildly entertaining, but for the most part, if they were all erased from the planet tomorrow I don’t think I would care/notice.

      Though I would miss Spacey line in American Beauty about missing the James Bond marathon on TNT.

  8. Oh Andrew, wow man, now I don’t know if I want to go to the MN get-together if you feel like this about Dalton… 🙁 Ahah, just kidding. Hey, we can all have our differences right, so with that I’m going to say I disagree with you wholeheartedly. I’m more in line with two other bloggers who review this movie (The M0vie blog & Paragraph’s) as the main issue isn’t Dalton but the movie itself and how dated it is. I don’t know how you think he’s got no screen presence, well I’m a woman and Dalton is the only Bond that REALLY make my heart go pit-a-pat. He’s got that sense of danger, brooding intensity and ruthlessness that’s captivating to watch. My main issue with TLD is Joe Don Baker, sooo campy and annoying! Not sure why he’s hired back in Goldeneye playing a totally different character.

    Anyway, I agree with David and Kurt that Die Another Day is the WORST ever Bond flick.


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