Saturday, 28 December 2013

Movie Review: The Living Daylights (1987)


The launch of the post-Roger Moore era of James Bond adventures is well-intentioned, but nevertheless results in a painful debacle. Timothy Dalton's turn as a more intense and darker Bond is hopelessly undermined by one of the worst plots in the series.

In Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, Soviet General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) arranges a defection to the west, facilitated by British agents Bond (Dalton) and Saunders (Thomas Wheatley). Bond's assignment is to neutralize KGB sniper Kara Milovy (Maryam d'Abo), a classical cellist, but he senses that she is a rank amateur in the sniper game and spares her life. During his debriefing with British intelligence Koskov reveals that the KGB's General Leonid Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies) is intent in starting a tit-for-tat assassination duel with the west, and prods the British to eliminate Pushkin first. Assisted by henchman Necros (Andreas Wisniewski), Koskov then arranges his escape from England.

Bond suspects that Koskov is behind the plot to force the British and Soviet intelligence services into an unnecessary war to eliminate Pushkin. Bond tracks down Kara, who turns out to be Koskov's girlfriend, and then goes after Koskov, who is in cahoots with Tangier-based American arms trader Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker) to profit from the sale of advanced weaponry to the Soviet army in Afghanistan. Koskov also wants to profit from a large opium deal, paid for by diamonds, with the Afghan Mujahideen. Bond and Kara team up with guerrilla leader Kamran Shah (Art Malik) to thwart the plan.

Outlandish fake defections, amateur sniper girlfriends, arms trading, illicit diamonds, adversaries conducting opium deals, agent assassinations, and the Afghanistan war: The Living Daylights is all over the place in a plot that grows more incoherent and less relevant by the minute. And in Koskov and Whitaker, the screenplay stumbles upon two bland and buffoonish villains, neither of them remotely intimidating. A sapless title song by one hit wonder Norwegian group a-Ha does not help.

However, in the central role Dalton is a marked improvement over Moore's final few outings. He brings a welcome serious determination to Bond, his personality more brooding, the interactions with M more abrupt and grim. Dalton is also physically much more believable as Bond, and performs many of his stunts to reclaim a sense of personal danger and realism.

But when it comes to actual acting and demonstrating romance, he is stiff and uncomfortable, director John Glen unable to liberate any natural sophistication from his new Bond. The scenes with Dalton and d'Abo stumbling across Europe are excruciatingly uncomfortable, Dalton's attempts at acting suave landing with a thud, and d'Abo coming across like a giddy teenager swept into a school trip with no defined purpose.

The Living Daylights is unique in depriving Bond of any on-screen intimate moments, the sexual coupling at best implied and more than likely awkward. Dalton's dourness and abject lack of charm do not earn the pleasures of a partner in a luxurious king-sized bed.

The action scenes are prolonged way beyond their content and materiality. Bond and Kara escape across the snowy mountains by sledding on her cello case in an interminable chase, while a sort of a climactic battle at a Soviet airbase goes on forever, Bond inexplicably taking off in a cargo plane rigged to explode, only to be followed by an equally tedious fight to the death between Bond and Necros.

Despite getting younger and fitter, The Living Daylights commits an unforgivable Bond sin: it is resoundingly unmemorable.






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