The Living Daylights

The Living Daylights (1987) Director: John Glen

★★★☆☆

The Living Daylights is the fifteenth canonical James Bond film. It is the first of two Bond movies to star Timothy Dalton as Agent 007, following the departure of an aging Roger Moore (Moore had previously starred in 7 Bond films over 12 years). Albert “Cubby” Broccoli returns as producer once again, only this time with the support of his stepson Michael Wilson and daughter Barbara Broccoli.

The title for the film is taken from Ian Fleming’s short story entitled “Octopussy and The Living Daylights.” After the declining critical popularity of the James Bond series in the Roger Moore era, Eon opened auditions for a new Bond actor. They briefly considered a variety of actors including Pierce Brosnan, the star of The Remington Steele show which was renewed for another season thus preventing Brosnan from starring as Bond, and the production team even considered Mel Gibson. Eon eventually settled on Welsh-born stage actor Timothy Dalton. In preparation for his role, Dalton re-read all of the original Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels -an impressive feat!

The Living Daylights offers a welcome change of pace with a wild opening scene – involving an MI6 drill as the agents parachute onto an island but two of the agents are quickly killed as the exercise is infiltrated by a group of enemies. Bond survives in a car chase scene that turns into a parachute drop over the open ocean onto a boat.

However, the true plot begins with James Bond assisting a Soviet general-turned defector in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. Bond sets up camp as a sniper outside a classical performance where he spots a rival female sniper. Instead of killing her he merely shoots the sniper rifle out of her hands. He escapes and helps the general, named Koskov played by Jeroen Krabbé, through a risky pipeline maneuver, but Bond becomes obsessed with the identity of the female sniper. Along the way, he learns of a new Russian general, Pushkin (played by John Rhys-Davies) now the head of the KGB. The Soviets eventually recapture their defector and Bond is assigned to the task of killing Pushkin. In general, the first half of the film is more captivating than the second half. Bond finds romance with an unwitting girl named Kara (played by Maryam d’Abo -her best known role) and the adventure leads him through Europe until he is eventually captured by the Russians only to escape along with the Mujahideen warriors of Afghanistan -a now shocking scene that severely dates the film (though there is amusing albeit uncomfortable joke about them having difficulty boarding a plane at the airport). Soon Bond discovers an international diamond scheme and he stages an assassination of Pushkin. The dramatic conclusion ends on a plane, with a bomb, at low fuel, with only Bond and Kara escaping. It is an entertaining ride. The Living Daylights is not the worst Bond film, but certainly not the best.

The plot gets slightly complicated, but it is a nice throwback to the Cold War era James Bond series. The tone is far more serious than the comedic slapstick Bond films of the late ’70s and early ’80s, Timothy Dalton plays a believable ruthless assassin. However, the cohort of Russian villains is pretty much forgettable. A-Ha performs the title song – another mostly forgettable ’80s Bond theme song.

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