7 March 2012

BlogalongaBond- THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS Review

A jeep barrels through a wall, with a screaming assassin at the wheel, neon pink paint all over the windscreen, the cargo ablaze, and James Bond's arse sticking out through a hole in its canvas roof. Timothy Dalton might have arrived a few films late to the party, but he certainly makes a big entrance, and keeps on making it all the way through The Living Daylights.

But, if anything, this feels like a more intimate Bond film for a reconstructed post-Moore 007. The stakes are realistically world-changing, but not on the carnivalesque plane of a Karl Stromberg or a Hugo Drax. Instead, Bond unwittingly becomes the lynchpin of a plan to trick British intelligence into assassinating one of their own allies, a Russian general. Behind all of this, arms merchants are lining up for a massive pay-off, while Bond is brought into contact with Kara Milovy, the girlfriend of one of the conspirators.

Actually, the thing about that opening sequence is that it doesn't exactly represent a brave new world for this latest regeneration of the franchise. There's even something that looks disturbingly like a monkey reaction shot, during the fight inside the moving jeep. The same producers who offered the role of Zorin to David Bowie and Sting last time around are still here, John Glen is still directing and Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson are still on scripting duties. That The Living Daylights is so much better than any of the last few Bond outings suggests that the casting of Timothy Dalton gave them all a much-needed kick up the arse.

When I started this whole marathon, going off of half-remembered ITV viewings of most of the films, Dalton was pretty much my favourite Bond. I think he did a lot of the stuff for which Daniel Craig is so appraised nowadays, and he did it 20 years later- he's a lot meaner than any of his predecessors, but there's an emotionally vulnerable edge to him too. Roger Moore eventually started to resemble Mr. Magoo, for the way in which he muddled through situations and still won the day, whereas Dalton can be more easily rumpled here, by bad timing, misdirection by his enemies, or the simple insistence on going back to retrieve a cello.

I think that Dalton's Bond is defined by his interactions with Saunders in this film. He's disgruntled at the beginning of the film, when Saunders keeps him in the dark about the plans for Kuskov, as if it's an affront to his professionalism. He proves his mettle, when he makes an ostensibly emotional decision to disarm an apparent sniper, who turns out to be Kara, rather than kill her. And yet later on in the film, when Saunders is assassinated by the KGB, he's momentarily grief-stricken, and then completely livid. Dalton's Bond is more emotionally rounded than his predecessors, showing vulnerability at times, but ultimately being all the more fearsome for it.

Actually, that helps the film to pull off what For Your Eyes Only couldn't, in misdirecting Bond as to who the actual villain is for a great portion of the film. This Bond reacts not with mild surprise and a raised eyebrow, when it turns out that General Pushkin, played by eternal franchise BFF John Rhys-Davies, is on the right side after all, but hell-bent determination to root out the actual baddies. Brad Whittaker and General Kuskov aren't the most fleshed-out characters we've seen, but they're fitting villains for a film that's more about espionage than property damage and fighting. Having a waxwork of Hitler in his living room might be shorthand to embellish Whittaker's nuttiness, but it's an effective shorthand, and Jeroen Krabbé gives a performance that's slimy enough to make Kuskov perfectly hateful.

As ever, the action is superbly imaginative and impeccably executed, and Dalton even did many of his own stunts, which is nice to see, after the embarrassment of A View to a Kill. There are a couple of problems though. Dalton delivers the standard-issue quips a little stiffly in this instalment, with the result that his conversation during an icy pursuit into Austria sounds more like he's carrying out a test drive on Top Gear, than engaging in a deadly chase. Secondly, it's a shame that Bond isn't even involved in the film's single best fight scene, which takes place in the kitchen of MI6's safe house, between nasty henchman Necros and a British agent who is only ever named as Green 4.

Paradoxically, the retro spy thriller elements of The Living Daylights mesh very well, with the long overdue arrival of an un-self-conscious Bond in the 1980s. Observe Necros, a henchman who kills with a personal stereo, but also disguises himself as a milkman, a distinctly British icon, in order to infiltrate MI6. In terms of masculinity, Dalton and Maryam d'Abo have a relatively chaste, unusually monogamous romance, but from the moment he first appears, there's no questioning that Dalton's wolfish performance redefined the role, to the extent that it is still drawn upon by the current, 21st century incarnation of the franchise.

#15- Austrian border control might as well be scaled back to a sign that reads "You must be at least this awesome to enter".

For a full list of everyone's work on BlogalongaBond so far, click here.

The Mad Prophet Will Return, With Licence to Kill... in April.

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