In The Living Daylights, James Bond (Timothy Dalton) allies in the escape of a defecting KGB agent, General Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe). Koskov is transported via natural gas pipeline into Austria and then taken to London, where he informs MI6 that the head of the KGB has reinstated an order to assassinate a series of international spies. The order, he believes, will bring about a world war. Concurrently to this debriefing, a KGB agent infiltrates the building and captures Koskov.
As one might guess, 007 is on the KGB hit-list. It’s a strong premise: it’s kill or be killed for Bond.
Dalton plays a moodier Bond than we are used to. He leans toward the dark as opposed to the sly. Some witty remarks and comedic moments are dotted throughout the script, but they are in stark contrast to the majority of Dalton’s performance. It’s a strange juxtaposition to his immediate predecessor, Roger Moore, but it works.
Something that the lazier James Bond films do wrong is make the love interest a slapdash attempt at a romantic B-plot. That is not what we get with The Living Daylights. Maryam d’Abo’s Kara Milovy is a delight, and her relationship with the womanizing spy develops in an arc as opposed to a line from point A to B. In a way, this makes Dalton’s Bond appear less womanizing, which is certainly a step up from some of the earlier incarnations.
Beyond the love through-line, Dalton’s Bond appears far more human than the stylized impressions of Bond that occur in other films. Dalton appears frightened, even paranoid, at the possibility of being assassinated by the KGB. He isn’t simply a killing machine with a pocket full of one-liners. He’s a man with a dangerous job, with emotions that reflect the reality of that danger.
A Bond film with some grit is exactly what the franchise needed after the waning films of the Roger Moore era, movies that are littered with laughable camp and cheesy dialogue. The Living Daylights seems to have come at the perfect time, and, in some ways, it is a precursor to the popular Daniel Craig films of today.
The Living Daylights isn’t without its faults. Villains and side characters are given a backseat to the film’s attempt to showcase their new Bond actor. The villains of the film, indeed, are wholly unmemorable. And there are far too many of them.
Additionally, the patented James Bond wit, when it is employed, does not fit with the darker mood of the overall picture. Dalton’s attempts at quips or general comedic moments fall horribly flat.
Finally, the action of this film is severely lacking. We get an action-packed climax that is notable, but it comes a little too late. The way the plot moves, it is easy to overlook this flaw, but it is clear that this film is not the most high-octane Bond flick in the franchise.
The mood of this film is what sells it for me. It isn’t the most action-packed installment, but it strips away the over-the-top villainous scheme for a down-and-dirty espionage plot that is fun to watch unravel.
The Living Daylights: B+
As always, thanks for reading!
The Living Daylights is currently available to rent/buy on Amazon Video here.
- The Living Daylights: B+
- A View to a Kill: D+
- Octopussy: C-
- For Your Eyes Only: C
- Moonraker: D
- The Spy Who Loved Me: B-
- The Man With the Golden Gun: C+
- Live and Let Die: C+
- Diamonds Are Forever: C-
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: B+
- Casino Royale (1967): D+
- You Only Live Twice: C+
- Thunderball: C-
- Goldfinger: A-
- From Russia With Love: A-
- Dr. No: B
What do you think? Do you like Dalton as Bond? Who’s your favorite Bond? Let me know in the comments!
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)