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Review: 'The Living Daylights' (1987) Dir. John Glen

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

Timothy Dalton, Maryam d'Abo, Jeroen Krabbé, Joe Don Baker, Art Malik, Andreas Wisniewski, Thomas Wheatley, Robert Brown, Caroline Bliss and Desmond Llewelyn


The fourth actor to don the tuexdo, Timothy Dalton, stars a double feature of Bond adventures that would gain huge acclaim and only whet audience appetites for more...

James Bond (Dalton) is assigned to help with the defection of KGB General Georgi Koskov (Krabbe). Taking down a sniper, Kara Milovy (d’Abo) in the process, Bond carries out a successful mission.

When Koskov is abducted back from MI6 custody by KGB assassin Necros (Wisniewski), Bond is tasked to find him and eliminate the new head of the KGB General Leonid Pushkin (Davies). When Bond scours Koskov’s old apartment, he finds that the “sniper” is actually his girlfriend, and the whole defection has been staged.

Koskov is working with American arms dealer Brad Whittaker (Baker) to fund and arm Soviet forces in the Soviet-Afghan war, and it becomes clear that MI6 have been played for fools. With Kara’s help, Bond races to find Koskov and stop his deadly plot before it is too late…

Originally conceived as a prequel movie for James Bond, later re-worked for Daniel Craig in 2006, the words ‘Smiert Shpionam - Death To Spies’ set the tone for this, the first Timothy Dalton James Bond movie. This 007 is darker, grittier and more to the true incarnation of Ian Fleming, and Dalton does a perfect job in becoming the super spy after the near impossible task following the 12 year run of family favourite Roger Moore. It was just going to be an approach that was too much too soon for audiences after the light-hearted 12 years of Moore.

The selection of more grounded, real-world villains, like American arms dealer Brad Whitaker and ruthless assassin Necros add a real sense of danger and brutality to this story, and give the whole movie more espionage qualities like Fleming originally wrote about. Dalton’s 007 is known for wanting to take the series down a notch in grandeur and retain some of the down-to-earth qualities features in the books.

No power-mad villains wanting world domination with shark pools or super weapons – their motives are fuelled simply by money, greed and power and real world politics.

While this may suck away the tongue-in-cheek adventure ironed into the series by Moore, making it difficult for a harder, tougher Bond to replace him only 2 years later, it’s a breath of fresh air for fans who wanted a more serious Bond; Dalton is easily the predecessor to Daniel Craig, just 19 years too early for audiences to fully accept. While the story may be TOO normal, and too grounded which is a difficult change of pace to fall into from what you may expect and it has highs and lows with pacing, it is saved by the action sequences and the darker moments that push Bond to the edge.

The gadgets are still here of course, mostly thanks to the return of the Aston Martin, this time a DB7 model, with “a few optional extras” installed. But Dalton’s 007 still remains grounded in his work with no outrageous jet-packs, submarines or other fantastical devices. It’s also worth noting that Dalton keeps his Bond grounded, and quite irritated, over the course of the film.  And these grounded qualities just make Dalton's Bond a more realistic, human civil servant. He's good at his job, but still gets pissed off with overly eccentric figures he comes across, finding it hard to bite his tongue at superiors and generally reflects a man you believe could kill quite easily and not do it just to make a quip.

Rather than play to the weaknesses of the Bond girls to get them into bed, Dalton’s 007 spends more time obviously irritated by them; with a number of frowns, curses, annoyed looks and put-downs, he’s 2 decades late from giving them a good slap as Connery would have. It’s this tight-jawed, cold-hearted bastard that Fleming wrote about that Dalton portrays brilliantly and so often forgotten about hanging under the shadow of Moore; this Bond is a man who is good at his job but has no time for anything else unless it’s on HIS terms.

Support comes from the new M, Robert Brown, and a new Miss. Moneypenny, Caroline Bliss taking over from Lois Maxwell which marks a new era and new beginning (and end?) for the current run of films before the 1990s. It’s a strong cast working with a strong story that has a real sense of espionage and Cold War threats running through it – Bond fights more with the KGB here than faceless goons and heavies, adding to that “real world” danger that kept Bond current at the time.

A great number of fantastic action sequences and stunts like the Hercules plane fight and the icy lake Aston Martin car chase, mixed with stunning locals like Afghanistan, Vienna and the borders of Russia and Czechoslovakia do nothing but confirm that fresh, exciting blood is pumping in the veins of 007. They brought a new actor in, retaining winning elements of the storytelling but still went out there for a more grounded, yet action-packed adventure topped off with a brilliant theme by a-ha.

'The Living Daylights' give audiences a big taste of what the Timothy Dalton era had in store for this new James Bond in a new era that, sadly, was doomed from the start even after such a promising debut.

'The Living Daylights' is an EON Productions production

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