The Living Daylights (1987)
The Living Daylights (1987)

Genre: Action and Spy Running Time: 2 hrs. 10 min.

Release Date: July 31st, 1987 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: John Glen Actors: Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Jeroen Krabbe, Joe Don Baker, John Rhys-Davies, Art Malik, Andreas Wisniewski, Thomas Wheatley, Desmond Llewelyn, Walter Gotell, Virginia Hey

 


 

T

hree MI6 operatives are tasked with penetrating a Rock of Gibraltar radio station as a routine secret agent training exercise. It involves a parachute jump, the scaling of a perilous series of craggy cliffs, and paint bullets to score kills. But this particular bit of practice is made more treacherous by a ruthless mercenary who has infiltrated the base and is offing agents for real. James Bond (Timothy Dalton), however, isn’t going to go down without a fight – stuffing the introductory action sequence with random explosions, a knife fight, a truck heist, and a careening chase through unforgivingly narrow mountainside streets. Additionally, the Bond theme music gets a bass infusion and some predominant electronic vibes during the events, 007 is notably more serious, and A-ha’s title song is magnificently stirring (John Barry’s orchestral version throughout the film is a definitive highlight).

Heading to Czechoslovakia, Bond is tasked with safeguarding a top KGB mastermind defector, General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe), who is being targeted by sniper Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo) on his escape from the country. During his debriefing in Britain, another hired killer descends on Koskov’s location, this time successfully kidnapping him. During the meeting, it’s learned that power-mad Soviet General Leonid Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies) has a list of various governmental spies to assassinate – a most undiplomatic maneuver that could result in retaliatory warfare. Bond then voyages to Tangier to attend a North African trade convention where Pushkin is expected to appear, and is ordered to dispatch of the radical before he can accomplish his objective.

But Bond has a history with Pushkin and doesn’t want to believe the General has become psychotic. When he locates Kara, still in Bratislava, who turns out to be nothing more than a cellist (and Koskov’s lover), his suspicions turn back to the renegade and the legitimacy of his defection. Bond convinces Kara to accompany him to Vienna, where she believes a reuniting with Georgi is imminent. Through his MI6 contact Saunders (Thomas Wheatley), Bond further discovers that Koskov is in cahoots with American arms dealer Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker), and that none of the men he was previously pursuing are actually his enemies.

Timothy Dalton assumes the legendary role of 007 with surprising ease. He’s best described as a cross between Sean Connery and Roger Moore, walking the fine line of both of their better qualities, and succeeding handsomely in feeling very much like the secret agent – while also nicely shaving off a few years from the later episodes of both Connery and Moore. The story is much more in line with the espionage and adventure to be anticipated from a theatrical work, straying away from comical henchmen and villains and the extreme futuristic elements from the likes of “Moonraker.” “The Living Daylights” receives the injection of earthly grounding it needs to divert from the over-the-top features of “A View to a Kill,” itself effective in a very different way.

“We’re free!” exclaims Kara, before Bond reminds her that they’re in a Russian air base in the middle of Afghanistan. The script is peppered with subtler laughs compared to Moore’s excruciating one-liners, but it doesn’t adopt the bleakness of Bond’s reinvention in 2006’s “Casino Royale.” Nevertheless, much of the humor comes from Bond simply verbally dismissing the gravity of deadly situations from which he just departed – a tactic more in league with this new Bond’s severer environments and situations.

In other departments, Q’s (still Desmond Llewelyn) unique gadgetry uninvitingly foreshadows exactly how Bond will escape from upcoming dilemmas; muscular thug Necros (Andreas Wisniewski) gets to participate in the film’s most showy, superbly breathtaking caper; and for the first time in the series, Moneypenny is replaced with a new actress (Caroline Bliss). Plus, in a striking turn, Bond only romances a single girl (save for the suggestive opening scene)! Once again, the action sequences are of a more elaborate, stunt-filled, explosion-fueled awesomeness, working to craft highly creative, adrenaline-pumping moments. Sliding across a frozen lake inside of a car inside of a shack, skiing down a snowy mountain on top of a cello case, storming a Russian stronghold on horseback, and dangling out the back of a cargo plane in the finale are all heart-pounding scenes of sharply choreographed excitement. Smartly, “The Living Daylights” kickstarts a grander daredevilry in Bond films – and a greater realism in the violence – that is entirely welcome.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10