The Living Daylights
This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.
Summary: in which, Timothy Dalton.
Alex: I guess it could be that thing where comparing something mediocre to something bad makes the mediocre thing look good. I’m not sure. But by golly, Timothy Dalton is my favourite Bond of the series so far. He’s not in his 60s, for a start! I’m not sure either whether there was a change in the writing team, but the script was way, way better than most of what we’d come to expect from the Moore era. Yes, there were a couple of silly lines – but very few innuendos, and it was fast-paced, and it just worked. Intriguingly, Dalton managed to switch between cold-blooded-killer and warm-human quite convincingly: there’s a lovely line where he declares, freezingly, “Stuff my orders – I only kill professionals.” I think Dalton’s portrayal of Bond has a lot to do with the script, but I think also that Dalton is simply a better actor than Moore. His face comes alive when he’s talking to the love interest, and shuts down when faced with evil and crazies. Also, he asks for a martini “shaken not stirred” and THEN we meet Felix Leiter and we are BACK in truBondland!
In discussion, James and I decided that this movie felt, for us – as film-viewers in their 30s – like an action film. Not “a 60s action film” – something that you had to watch with period glasses on – it just felt like a normal movie. Yes, some of the effects have dated, and yes it’s clearly not a 21st century world. But overall it was… familiar. I don’t think I’d quite realised just how ‘period’ the earlier Bonds had been.
So. The film then. Bond goes to Czechoslovakia to assist a KGB general in defecting, and doesn’t kill the sniper who’s aiming for him. Koskov declares that the new head of the KGB, Pushkin, is looking to kill enemy spies and the British should therefore take him out. Bond is dubious, and goes back to Czechoslovakia to
check out follow up on the cellist, who was the sniper. To cut through the rather exciting chase scenes etc, it turns out Koskov is working with a crazy American mercenary/arms dealer to get arms into Russia and Pushkin is in the way, so they’re trying to set Bond up to get rid of him. The cellist is Koskov’s girlfriend but he’s unfaithful – which is fine, because she has Bond now, zing! – and because this is set during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, we end up with Bond being helped out by the “Afghan resistance” – the Mujahideen. Oh, the times and the way they do change. (They’re led, incidentally, by an Oxford-educated man with a delightful accent.)
The plot is fast-paced and well-paced: there are some nice quieter moments that don’t drag the whole movie down, and they work nicely for character development. There are some spectacular chases, and – what the Bonds have always done – there is glorious use of spectacular scenery. Going from the snow of Austria to the desert of Tangiers was breathtaking and really worked; I think they used Morocco for Afghanistan and it looked fantastic, too, although I can’t testify to its verisimilitude.
Women? We have a new Moneypenny! Which is sad, because Lois Maxwell was awesome, but her mooning over Bond at this point would have been… awkward… more awkward than it was when they were the same age, I mean. And this time Moneypenny (a sexy young blonde) doesn’t appear to be M’s secretary: she’s Doing Research and appears to be based in Q Branch. Nice step up in the world, girl! (… within the ideas of the film world, I mean.) There’s one incidental sexy woman, in the prologue: we nearly went the entire scene with nary a boob, but Bond ends up parachuting onto a boat where a rich young woman has been complaining of boredom. Not any more, honey! There’s also a woman who helps Bond get Koskov out of Czechoslovakia, who is played entirely for laughs: she’s one of those big, blocky women that often gets used to portray how dreadful it must be for the lads in Soviet countries, and she uses sex to distract a manager! oh the lolz! Yeh… Anyway, the main female character is Kara the cellist. She’s not a bad character, not as action-y as the last couple – she is a cellist after all! – but not completely useless. She was game to participate in Koskov’s defection, after all, even though it turned out her rifle was given only blanks and she was meant to be killed. She is suspicious of Bond, as you would be, and fights him at appropriate moments, but naturally ends up falling head over heels in love. Seriously such magic. At least she ended up with some of her dreams come true, like playing cello in the West.
Incidentally, there a couple of beefcake shots to try and complement the cheesecake ones; it doesn’t quite match yet, but points for trying I suppose. Also I loved John Rhys-Davies as Pushkin.
James: The crunchy disco theme from the 70s (Man with the Golden Gun) gives way to an 80s electronica remix of the Bond theme for the opening chase and then we quickly move through to the credits with girls in swimsuits rather than naked silhouettes – moving on from the era of free love I guess. I love the little touches with this film like the chunky walkie talkies for the KGB goons.
The Aston Martin in this film may very well be the best yet, from a gadget point of view anyway – lasers, rockets (“I’ve had a few optional extras installed”), modern ‘safety’ glass (bullet proof), spike tyres, skis and finally rocket propulsion. All deployed in a single magnificent chase scene. It was nice to see the man ordering a drink, shaken and not stirred of course. It’s a new Bond for a new era, harder and yet more human. 3.5 Martinis, shaken and not stirred.