Living Daylights, The (United Kingdom, 1987)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Living Daylights, The Poster

I'll be among the first to admit that Timothy Dalton is a fine actor. But giving a solid performance has little to do with being a good James Bond, and, as accomplished as Dalton is, he's a failure as 007 in The Living Daylights (to give him credit, he does improve in Licence to Kill). This is a below-average-to-adequate story with a weak villain, terrible acting, and a workmanlike score from John Barry (in his last stint to date as Bond's composer). There are three energetic action sequences, but they're not enough to save this film from bottoming out as the worst entry in the series, beating out Octopussy and Live and Let Die by a hair's breadth.

Dalton plays Bond too straight -- stylish, cold, and without a trace of humor. The argument for this kind of performance is that it more closely resembles the 007 of the novels, but, after fourteen films, the cinematic Bond has evolved far from what his creator envisioned. This fourth "official" incarnation is lacking in the one critical ingredient that made Bond so popular with fans across the world: a personality. Not since George Lazenby took the role in 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service has 007 been so lifeless.

The plot of The Living Daylights borders on inane. It has something to do with a defecting KGB general, Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe), who implicates one of his former compatriots, Pushkin (John Rhys- Davies), in a plot to eliminate British agents. Even though there is uncertainty about the reliability of Koskov's information, 007 is sent to assassinate Pushkin. During the mission, he teams up with Koskov's Czech girlfriend, Kara (Maryam D'Abo), and learns that the real architect of the mayhem and murder is a renegade U.S. arms dealer, Whitaker (Joe Don Baker).

Has there ever been a weaker Bond villain than Whitaker? A more fatuous performance than Joroen Krabbe's Koskov? A less endearing Bond girl than Maryam D'Abo's Kara? The Living Daylights is stocked with unappealing elements. Even the new Moneypenny (Caroline Bliss replacing Lois Maxwell) can't act her way out of a shoebox. With the exception of a few nicely-executed chases, just about everything in The Living Daylights misfires.

The teaser, which features a wild ride around Gibraltar, promises a level of excitement that most of the film never lives up to. We are given two other notable action segments: a car chase with Bond's gadget- loaded Aston Martin leading to a wild ride down a snowy slope on a cello case, and a struggle between Bond and Whitaker's henchman (Andreas Wisniewski) in a cargo plane with the bay doors open. Engaging as they are, however, these sequences don't account for a large portion of the film's bloated running time.

It's perhaps too easy to blame this movie's failure on Dalton, but he's part of the problem. The script writers got themselves straightened out for the next film, Licence to Kill, but for Dalton, it was too little too late. It would require a six year layoff and another actor change before 007 would regain the form that caused him to soar to worldwide popularity during the '60s and '70s. The series survived The Living Daylights, but just barely.

Living Daylights, The (United Kingdom, 1987)

Run Time: 210
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Violence, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1