The Living Daylights Review

He got the boot.

The PTS of The Living Daylights features an exciting and well-staged sequence in which the OO section attempt to penetrate the radar installations of Gibraltar. SAS soldiers based on the colony are assigned to stop them. With their faces covered so we don't who the new 007 is, the men jump out of a Hercules transport plane above the Rock. O002 lands in a tree and is captured while two other OO agents begin to scale the cliffs towards the base. An assassin appears and sends a tag reading Smert' Shpionam down the rope to 004 before cutting it and killing him. We cut to 007 as the screams ring out. Timothy Dalton is given a simple, effective and excellent introduction in his first shot as James Bond. Bond takes off after the mysterious assassin and jumps onto his Land Rover, clinging on as it races through narrow roads and eventually goes over the edge of a tourist spot towards the sea. Bond escapes with his reserve parachute while the assassin is killed when the Land Rover explodes in mid-air. Timothy Dalton's willingness to be in the thick of the stunt-work when possible pays dividends all through the sequence. Maurice Binder's titles are a bit tired although A-Ha's pop contribution is a guilty pleasure and not bad at all.

The original short story is faithfully adhered to in the early part of the film. 007 helps KGB General Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) defect to the West. As he guards his escape with a sniper rifle 007 sees that the sniper protecting Koskov is the cellist (Kara Milovy played by Maryam D'Abo) from the concert hall in Bratislava. He refuses to kill her and shoots the rifle out of her hands whilst ensuring Koskov's escape from the hall. In a safe-house in the UK, General Koskov informs MI6 that the KGB is being run by power-hungry General Leonid Pushkin (an enjoyable John Rhys-Davies). According to Koskov, Pushkin has revived an old policy of Smert' Shpionam meaning Death to Spies and needs to be eliminated. A group led by the assassin Necros (Andreas Wisniewski), raids the country-house where British Intelligence have Koskov and snatch him back. Necros disguises himself as a milkman (complete with explosive milk bottles!) to gain entry and his kitchen fight with a member of security is splendid stuff and very brutal for a James Bond film. He also has his own theme tune: 'Where Has Every Body Gone?' by The Pretenders. Very apt!

Bond is sent to kill General Pushkin. In an enjoyable Q scene 007 is given an electric key-finder featuring skeleton keys and capable of exploding and releasing stun-gas (The explosive is triggered, of course, by a wolf whistle) and an Aston-Martin. Bond uses the Aston Martin to great effect later on with rockets and a laser built into the wheel in the ice-chase as they escape to Austria. Prior to this 007 returns to Bratislava. Suspecting that Koskov is not all that he seems he poses as his friend to gain Kara's trust. The scenes in Kara's apartment are very low-key and suprising for a Bond film and nicely acted.

At the opera in Vienna, Bond excuses himself from Milovy to meet his MI6 contact, Saunders, in a fairground café. Saunders has investigated Koskov's story and discovered a link between him and a greedy arms dealer, "General" Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker). The Stradivarius Kara owns, though bought by Koskov, was paid for by Brad Whitaker. Whitaker had arranged to supply the KGB with Western high-technology weapons through Koskov, and Koskov is attempting to deliver the down payment in diamonds. Pushkin is in fact investigating Koskov, and Koskov wanted the British to kill him.

As Saunders leaves the café he is killed by Necros, who detonates a bomb slamming the sliding front door of the café on to Saunders. Necros leaves behind a balloon with the words Smert' Shpionam on it, unaware that Bond already suspects the true motives behind the trail of clues lain for him. Bond returns to Milovy, and they immediately leave for Tangier, Morocco, where Whitaker operates. Thomas Wheatley has a small but memorable part as Saunders and we do feel for him as he heads to his death.


007 and Pushkin meet. Pushkin reveals to Bond that he had been investigating Koskov for embezzlement of government funds, and adds that the KGB scrapped Smert' Shpionam decades earlier, confirming Bond's suspicions that a third party is behind the plot. 007 fakes Pushkin's death at a convention in Tangier by 'shooting' him just before Necros. He escapes over the rooftops and is eventually picked up by John Terry's Felix Leiter. Terry is given a thankless task in his tiny scene and doesn't make for a memorable Leiter. The rooftop chase was to escalate into the magic-carpet scene and a motorbike chase. If you've seen the Ultimate Edition DVD of The Living Daylights where these deleted scenes are available, you'll know why they cut them: they simply didn't suit the tone of the film or Timothy Dalton's 007.

Koskov persuades Kara that 007 is a KGB agent intent on killing her. She drugs him with a Martini but it is too late when 007 convinces her that she has been tricked by Koskov. They are flown to a Soviet Base in Afghanistan but escape with the aid of Kamran Shah (Art Malik), a Mujahideen fighter. Bond discovers that Whitaker and Koskov are paying diamonds for a large shipment of opium for distribution in the US and funds for Soviet arms. The Mujahideen help Bond and Milovy infiltrate the air base. Bond plants a bomb in the back of the cargo aeroplane transporting the drugs, but Koskov spots him. Bond takes the aeroplane as the Mujahideen attack the airbase. Kara makes it onto the plane at the last minute but so does Necros who attacks 007 as he tries to defuse a bomb. An exciting fight follows as the cargo doors open and they fall out clinging onto the cargo net. 007 gains the upper hand and cuts Necros' bootlaces to send him to his death. He defuses the bomb and drops it over a bridge to help the Mujahideen who are in retreat from the Soviets.

007 travels to Whitaker's house and interupts a game of toy soldiers to tell him the opium is gone. Whitaker uses a high-tec machine-gun to try to kill Bond but Q's key-ring finder saves him in the end. "He met his Waterloo," says Bond. The KGB save Bond's life when Puskin's men burst in and kill the Whitaker guard about to shoot Bond. General Koskov is there, too, and, while not killed, he is to be flown back to Moscow "in the diplomatic bag". 007 heads back home and though assumed to be on assigment turns up in Kara's dressing-room in the closing moment of the film.

With double-crosses galore, European locations that feel like real places and a James Bond who headbutts someone minutes into the film, The Living Daylights was a return to basics after the excesses of the Roger Moore era. Timothy Dalton is closer to the Bond created by Ian Fleming than any of his predecessors. He is cold and aloof at times, we believe he can kill, but he is also handsome and reasonably debonair so we also believe (or at least I do at any rate) that he is James Bond. His Bond is enigmatic and strikes one as a loner who is very professional, a man who carries a few psychological scars. One can see why Broccoli always wanted him to play Bond although for Dalton and Dalton fans it ended up a case of too little too late. Dalton was the first actor to approach James Bond as a 'proper' acting job and take it seriously. For this reason his contribution is debated to this day. Some find him humourless (Dalton will never be able to deliver a line like "Amazing this modern safety glass" like Roger Moore, for whom it may have been written) and a tad theatrical but to my mind he had a (sometimes truculent) charm that is mined to good effect in The Living Daylights. Stuffing Kara's cello onto the back seat of the Aston Martin and placing Koskov in  the pipeline launch bay for example. I think it is tremendously unfair that he is remembered by many simply as the man who nearly killed the series.

Timothy Dalton aside, what's great about The Living Daylights? Maryam D'Abo and her relationship with Bond is nicely developed. We do actually care about her and who wins her trust. John Barry's last James Bond score is fantastic. His remix of the main theme for the Afghan battle is amazing and a reminder of how sorely missed he is. General Koskov and Brad Whitaker are more believable villains and certainly a change although Necros is a classic henchman. Though the film is much more down to earth than many in the series it still has enough Bond grace notes (Aston-Martin chase with gadgets, John Barry, beautiful European locations, a Q scene, Moneypenny) to feel completely Bondian and cinematic and the photography for the Afghan scenes is superb and deserves a mention. Perhaps the plot is a trifle convoluted and the film does struggle to maintain momentum at times when the action switches to Afghanistan but it has several superb action sequences and Dalton's physical presence makes them all the more engaging.

Overall I'd give The Living Daylights a big thumbs-up. The film is comfortably inside my James Bond top-ten list.

- Michael Cooper



c 2006 Alternative 007