Film Review: The Living Daylights
In 1987, John Glen released The Living Daylights, based on the title of the 1966 short story of the same name by Ian Fleming, as the 15th entry into the series. Starring Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Jeroen Krabbé, Joe Don Baker, John Rhys-Davies, Art Malik, Thomas Wheatley, John Terry, Caroline Bliss and Andreas Wisniewski, the film grossed $191.2 million at the box office.
Called in to assist in the defection of a Soviet general, Bond suspects foul play when the sniper sent in was not a professional. His fears are found to be legitimate after the general is abducted from a safehouse he was being kept in and is assigned to assassinate KGB General Pushkin.
The first of two films to feature Dalton as Bond, The Living Daylights is one of the more decent Bond films, applying a darker tone that wouldn’t be appreciated until much later. While the producers were working to create a darker Bond to break away from the campiness of the films in the Moore era, the tone shift is incredibly jarring in its use of the standard James Bond formula. What results is a film shifting back and forth between trying to be gritty and cynical, such as Bond stating he’d thank M for firing him, and incorporating some out of place lighter and humorous moments, including the Ghetto Blaster and swallowing couch seen in Q Branch as well as the bomb activated by a wolf whistle and the Mujaheddin in desert dress with bandoleers calming they had trouble at the airport. As a whole, the darker tone feels forced, leaving a lot to be desired.
Despite the confused tone, the film does have some pretty interesting villains, especially Whitaker’s henchman Necros. The man is able to infiltrate a safehouse by dressing up as a milkman, have some brutal fights and kidnap his target without having any weapons other than disguised grenades. His ability to easily improvise in whatever situation he’s in helps to give weight to his status as a former KGB assassin. His boss, Whitaker, is a fascinating villain too. A failed candidate from West Point who turned to dealing arms, he recreates famous military battles the way he believes they should have been carried out and regards himself as a great military leader, regardless of whether or not he washed out and turned criminal. However, he does show aptitude for strategy considering he and Koskov orchestrated an incredibly good conspiracy.
This is what makes the film's plot entertaining. It's the last in the series to feature the Soviet Union as a major player on the world stage, even though it’s not the ultimate villain. Koskov defects and alleges that the head of the KGB, Pushkin, is ruthless and psychotic, only for it to be revealed that Pushkin has no knowledge of what Koskov claims. Further, when Pushkin reveals Koskov is wanted for embezzling, it demonstrates the dysfunction found within the Soviet government in the mid 1980s. Additionally, this uncovers revelations concerning the sniper at the beginning of the film. Her name is Kara and she's Koskov's girlfriend. Since she's the only person who could reliably confirm Koskov's extraction as false, he sets her up to be a fake sniper so she could be killed in retaliation. Upon finding this out, it exhibits brilliance in Koskov's questioning about the sniper during the defection. At first, he seems concerned about surviving to make it to the West. Yet, once the scheme has been fully uncovered, it displays his true fear of whether or not the truth will come out, thus ensuring his downfall.
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BMI Film & TV Awards
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Golden Screen Awards
- Golden Screen
Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel Awards
- Best Sound Editing - Foreign Feature
Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Saturn Awards
- Best Fantasy Film
DVD Exclusive Video Premiere Awards
- Best DVD Original Retrospective Documentary/Featurette (For "Ian Fleming: 007's Creator," for Special Edition)
International Film Music Critics Awards
- Best Re-Release of a Previously Existing Score
Golden Satellite Awards
- Best Classic DVD Release (For "The James Bond DVD Collection," volumes 2 & 3)