1986. After “View to a Kill” ended the Roger Moore era, the search was on for a new James Bond to replace Moore. Several actors were screened, including Sam Neill (who would later star in the Jurassic Park films) Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan, who was the husband of former Bond girl actress Cassandra Harris (From For Your Eyes Only).
However, due to the attention Pierce was getting due to the announcement, his TV series Remington Steele was unexpectedly renewed, and Brosnan had to drop out of the film due to that. However, he’d get a chance again with 1995’s “Goldeneye” and would play a successful-if somewhat typical-Bond for the next 7 years.
In his place, they cast the older, more intense-looking , Shakespearean actor Timothy Dalton, originally considered for the role in the 70’s before they went with George Lazenby (Dalton felt he was too young at the time).
Dalton decided to bring a somewhat different approach to the role than Moore, sort of going back to the novel roots of the character, with Bond as a man who-while still possessing charm and taste-was more psychologically wounded and grumpy than the more quipish superspy of the films (especially the 70’s and early 80’s) and more dangerous. Granted, it wasn’t a complete break-Bond still did the quips (although it seemed to be the weakest part of Dalton’s acting in the role), and Bond still had his gadgets. This was after all, pretty much in the same continuity as the other films.
Craig’s portrayal would take a similar approach but would break more with the continuity, although they’ve been pretty much progressing towards more traditional Bond tropes over the years. But that’s a topic for another review.
“Living” opens with a skydive over Gibraltar, where three 00’s are doing a mock infiltration of the radar installation there. However, somebody else is watching the group, and Bond witnesses him off an 00 agent, as well as two SAS soldiers participating in the exercise.
Bond then gives chase by jumping over the suspect’s escape vehicle, eventually managing to subdue the driver, but the ordinance explodes. Bond however safely parachutes onto a yacht, and asked to use a bored woman’s 1980’s giant cellphone to give MI6 a heads up. He also of course gets to do his famous introduction and of course a quip as he joins the lady for ….champagne. 😉
Living Daylight’s opening sequence-by the British band A-Ha well known for the crossover hit “Take on Me”-has a song somewhat in the vein of “View to A Kill”, a sort of British pop number. However, like “View” the credits don’t have too much to do with the plot or settings of the films, mainly focusing on the traditional Bond opening stuff of girls and guns. The film-John Barry’s final film as Bond composer due to health issues (plus perhaps problems working with Duran Duran and A-Ha). The Pretenders also provide two tracks which along with the title theme are heard in instrumental form mainly in the film’s action and romantic scenes: “Where has Everybody gone” and “If I had a Man”.
The next sequence is pretty much an adaptation of the Bond short story The Living Daylights, from which the film gets it’s title. However, certain elements are different and tie into the earlier story. Aiding in the defection of a Russian general Koskov (Jereon Krabbe) in Brataslava, he notices the person (Mary’am D’abo) who seems assigned to kill him-who he had witnessed as a cello artist a few minutes before-“doesn’t known one end of the rifle from another”-and he spares her by only shooting her arm.
Assisting in the defection, Bond’s suspicions begin to grow that something’s not quite right once everybody returns to Britain, and Koskov starts to give off of a story that the KGB director General Pushkin (Replacing Gogol from the Roger Moore films) has decided to pursue an anti-spy agenda; with the 00 killed at the beginning of the film the first casualty. Also, a search for the mysterious cello girl turns up nothing.
Soon after, when Bond leaves, Koskov is kidnapped by the mysterious Necros, who even gets his own fight scene without Bond. Necros is in many ways similar to Red Grant from From Russia With Love, switching accents and disguises and using a garrote at his primary weapon. Like Grant, he’s also part of a larger plot that is more than it appears.
Although ordered to go after Pushkin, Bond-widening his search for the girl to musicians-is able to find the mysterious woman, and sets off after her as his lead. There’s also a nice Q scene which shows off the film’s primary gadget, the key ring finder.
Arriving back at Bratislava, Bond soon realizes that the defection might have been a hoax-as the rifle the woman-Kara Milovy-had, had blanks and was therefore useless. They’ve both been played for fools, but Bond decides to befriend Kara-posing as a friend of Koskov-to find out what’s really going on somehow. Here we get the film’s main car action sequence, with the Volante V8 being one of the more gadget-loaded cars in the series-with laser cutters, headlight missiles, outriggers, tire spikes, a jet booster and finally a self-destruct sequence.
As for Kara, while I’ve criticized Bond girls in the past who were kind of portrayed as ‘ditzy’, or shown to be competent in some areas but sort of incompetent in others (Tifanny Case, Mary Goodnight and most recently Stacey Sutton), I think Kara ‘works’ better because she’s sort of caught up as a naive, innocent victim in this spy game, and I think Mary’am D’abo plays that well. She isn’t quite as proactive as some Bond girls, but I think she gets some decent character development, and actually towards the end does some decent fighting, although she still makes some goofy mistakes.
He ends up taking her to Vienna and romancing her a bit as well. There’s some impressive location work here, and some film fans might remember a similar setting in the film “The Third Man” with Orson Welles. This might’ve been intentional on the behalf of director John Glen, who worked on that film.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Koskov is pals with Necros and crazed arms dealer Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker)-the defection and recapture was fake-and that Pushkin is actually investigating them for misusing the funds for some scheme.
Bond also starts to suspect things aren’t right when he gets a fellow British agent-Saunders-who accompanied him in the film’s opening-to trace some of Koskov’s spending, linking him with Whitaker. Unfortunately, Saunders is killed by Necros, but not before he uncovers the next link-In Tangier. It’s in Tangier where we get a tense scene where Bond questions Pushkin (Played by John Rhys-Davies of Indiana Jones and Lord Of The Ring’s fame) about what’s going on-and it turns out they’re pretty much on the same side, more or less-Koskov has been trying to misled MI6 into thinking Pushkin is the enemy, in order to keep him from discovering their operation.
Pretending to kill Pushkin with the aid of expert shooting and fake blood, Bond and Pushkin let Koskov make his next move, although Bond unwillingly attracts the attention of his old friend Felix Leiter, who has been monitoring the situation. There’s also one of the film’s best shots, a pseudo-gunbarrel with Bond in the literal spotlight.
On a side note, I feel that John Terry’s Felix Leiter is one of the weaker ones in the series. He doesn’t really get that much to do and his acting is pretty flat. Thankfully, Licence to Kill, Dalton’s next films would give us a much better Felix-and one we’ve had before in Live and Let Die-David Hedison.
Unfortunately Kara contacts Koskov, and briefly is tricked by him into believing Bond is a bad guy-until Kara comes to her senses-but not before Bond is drugged and captured.
Bond is then taken to an Afghan Soviet air base, where the true extent of Koskov’s plan is revealed-he’s holding a gun and drug running operation with Whitaker’s help-and when Pushkin got too nosy he came up with the whole fake defection to get Pushkin out of the way. Bond and Kara are able to escape, and eventually storm the base with the help of the Afghan resistance, in the film’s largest action scene as Bond struggles to steal the Soviet plane full of drugs while Kara and the rebels attack the base. After getting the plane up, Bond still has to deal with a stowaway-ed Necros, and both find themselves hanging for their lives in the film’s best stunt.
Which, on a side note, I’m pretty sure inspired a similar scene in the video game Uncharted 3.
It was even used for the game of the year re-release!
Anyway, Bond is able to get things under control but loses the plane, but manages to escape in the nick of time. He then returns to Tangier to take care of Whitaker, in a sort of lackluster final showdown. Whitaker’s far from a memorable Bond villain-he’s mainly campy bluster. Indeed Koskov isn’t either, and the villains and their plot is considered one of the weaker elements of the film (Which otherwise has a good Bond in Dalton and great action sequences that far surpass it’s predecessor View To A Kill). Baker of course would eventually play Jack Wade in the first two Pierce Brosnan Bond films.
Then of course we get the happy ending-Kara gets a new job performing at Vienna, with many admirers including former KGB guy Gogol, and of course Bond gets her at the end.
Overall, Living Daylights is a bit of fresh air and a return to Bond’s espionage roots after “View to A Kill” and the somewhat over the top plots and humor of many of the Roger Moore films. There’s still a bit of the Bond tropes-the gadgets, mostly-but at the time, this was pretty much a cool new direction for the series. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out as originally planned, as we’ll find out in the next review.