Friday, July 27, 2012

Film Review: The Living Daylights

The Living Daylights
  • Publisher: MGM / United Artists
  • Studio: Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Release: 30 July 1987 (UK), 31 July 1987 (USA)
  • Genre: Action
  • Director: John Glen
  • Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson
  • Writers: Michael G. Wilson, Richard Maibaum

The Bond: With Roger Moore bowing out of the franchise, in 1986 the search was on for a new James Bond. Among those considered were the Irish actor Pierce Brosnan, fresh off the TV series Remington Steele. But rumours surfaced that Brosnan was being courted to play 007, interest in Steele surged, and NBC renewed the series. In response to that, producer Albert Broccoli withdrew his offer, and in response to that, the Steele revival only lasted five episodes. In the end, the role went to Timothy Dalton, a Welsh veteran of the Shakespeare circut, who brought with him a more serious, cold, and professional take on the role of 007. And I'm willing to brand myself as an outcast (even more so) by saying that Dalton was an underrated actor and, in fact my favourite James Bond actor that's ever been. He only starred in two of the Bond films, and it wasn't this one that sealed the deal for me, but with a complex script like what we've got here, it would be a little uncomfortable to imagine Moore or even Connery tackling it with the same gravitas. 5 out of 5.

The Girl: Kara Milovy (Maryam d'Abo), a Slovak-based classical cellist and girlfriend of Koskov. Like Tracy from OHMSS, she's one of those Bond Girls with whom 007 builds an honest-to-blog romance. I especially love how intrinsically she's woven into the plot -- take note of how Koskov set her up as the sniper for his fake defection, in the hopes she would get killed; or how she has 007 drugged whilst under the impression that he is a KGB agent. 4 out of 5.

Other Allies: Saunders (Thomas Wheatley), an MI6 operative stationed in Austria. Highly critical of Bond, especially in his handling of the sniper during Koskov's defection, to my personal annoyance, but it's nice to see him go out on a friendly note. Crushed by an automatic door triggered by Necros2 out of 5.

Kamran Shah (Art Malik), leader of a Mujaheddin unit in Afghanistan.

Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe), a Soviet general seeking to defect to the West -- or rather, fake defection in order to spread misinformation about his political rival, Pushkin. Deliciously manipulative, in particular for the way he tries to sacrifice his own girlfriend for his pseudo-defection plan, but not the most serious or even sane actor out there. 3 out of 5.

Walter Gotell also makes his final appearance in the series as Gogol, now working for the USSR's immigration service.

The Villains: Leonid Pushkin (John Rhys Davies, The Lord of the Rings trilogy), Gogol's replacement as head of the KGB. Seeks to arrest Koskov for misuse of state funds. Despite Koskov's claims, he had nothing to do with the deaths of British agents, so he serves as an ally of Bond. But don't tell anyone... 5 out of 5.

Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker, from Mitchell), American arms dealer seeking a deal with the Soviets in Afghanistan. His home base is a showroom and miniature museum of war history; not the most grounded of ideas, but it helps paint his character as a diehard war aficionado. (Note the many statues of famous warlords with his face on them. Seeing the one of Hitler is... awkward.) As for the actor himself, if he absolutely has to sound like a southern American, then he's what J.W. Pepper should've been like. Crushed by a statue toppled by Bond3 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Necros (Andreas Wisniewski), a KGB assassin. Not much in the way of personality, but is hyper-competent all the same.  He's pretty much the '80s edition of Red Grant. Thrown out of a plane by Bond. 4 out of 5.

The Gadgets: A keyring finder with stun gas and an explosive charge. Aston Martin makes its return to the Bond franchise with the V8 Vantage, decked out with wheel-mounted laser cutters, rocket launchers, a windshield HUD, a rocket engine, and a self-destruct system. Overkill, I must say. 3 out of 5.

The Locations: The United Kingdom (Gibraltar, England), Czechoslovakia (modern-day Slovakia, filmed in Austria), Austria, Morocco, and Afghanistan (filmed in Morocco). Given that the last act of this film concerns itself with the Soviet war in Afghanistan, it has been addressed that James Bond allied with the Mujahedeen, a faction which would in the real world evolve into the Taliban in a few years' time. (See also: Rambo: First Blood Part III.) Well, that's not the whole truth: the Mujahedeen splintered into a number of groups once their common enemy, the Soviet Union, left in 1989. The Taliban was part of that, yes, but other offshoots include the Northern Alliance tribes, which assisted the NATO coalition in deposing the Taliban in 2001. And for the record, part of the reason for the rise of harsh Islamist ideology in Afghanistan was an overreaction to the atheism imposed by the Soviets. ...Moving on.

The Theme Song: Performed by a-ha (from "Take On Me"). The way I see it, this song was engineered to replicate Duran Duran's theme from A View to a Kill, right down to the lyrics which suggest the lights are on in Pål Waaktaar's head but no one's home. All the same, if you need to know an a-ha song besides "Take On Me", then enjoy the hipster cred. 2 out of 5.

The Pretenders also contributed two songs: "Where Has Everybody Gone" (used as Necros's theme), and "If There Was A Man" (during the end credits).

The Opening Credits: Uses a lot of water and coloured lighting. Evokes the credit sequences of the '70s and '80s in that it's not very interesting. 2 out of 5.

The Novel: This movie shares its title with a short story from 1966's Octopussy and the Living Daylights, which has 007 oversee the escape of a British agent from East Berlin in a manner similar to what we see early on in the film. Read on.

The Plot: We start out in Gibraltar, where the 00 section is running a training exercise. When an assassin kills one of the agents for real, 007 goes after him and kills him in turn. Cue opening credits. We come back to a classical music concert in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia (now part of Slovakia), where Bond and MI6 agent Saunders are overseeing the defection of Georgi Koskov, a Soviet general. Bond takes up a sniper's post and spots another sniper, presumably gunning for Koskov. However, this sniper is also a woman, who was playing the cello at the concert just minutes before, so instead of shooting her, he shoots her gun instead. Saunders is not amused. Nonetheless, the defection otherwise goes off without a hitch, with Koskov being smuggled into Austria via a gas pipeline.

At an MI6 safehouse in the English countryside, Koskov briefs M and 007 on "Smiert Shpionam" (Death to spies), or "SMERSH", a Stalin-era program which was apparently re-activated by Leonid Pushkin, Gogol's replacement as the head of the KGB. But then a KGB assassin, Necros, raids the compound and steals back Koskov. With the help of Moneypenny, Bond confirms the identity of the cellist lady from Bratislava, and heads over to pay her a visit. He spots her on a tram car, where she is taken by a KGB handler but leaves behind her cello case - which contains the gun she used that night, loaded with blanks. He visits her house, posing as a friend of Koskov's, and helps her escape town and cross into Austria.

Meanwhile, Pushkin is in Tangier, Morroco, visiting Brad Whitaker, an arms dealer. He shows Pushkin samples of a deal which would help the Soviets in Afghanistan, but Pushkin cancels the deal. Whitaker then confers with Koskov and Necros, who agree that they should have 007 assassinate Pushkin. Speaking of whom, after a date with Kara in Vienna, Bond learns from Saunders that her cello was purchased by none other than Whitaker, and suggests that he and Koskov have worked together in the past. However, Saunders is subsequently killed by Necros, prompting Bond to head to Tangier post-haste, where Pushkin is leading a trade conference. He tracks Pushkin and confronts him in his hotel room, where he denies all knowledge of SMERSH's alleged re-activation. So instead of killing him outright, they agree to have Bond stage an assassination of Pushkin; no one is killed who needn't be, and Koskov and Whitaker resume their deal. Bond returns to his hotel room and shares a drink with Kara, but gets drugged and smuggled out of the country by Koskov.

His plane lands in a Soviet airbase in Afghanistan, where the couple are to be arrested: Bond for the apparent murder of Pushkin, and Kara for apparent defection. But he overpowers his jailer and breaks out with not only Kara, but Kamran Shah, the leader of a local Mujaheddin unit. Before they take action against the Soviets, he leads Bond and Kara to a sale of opium, purchased by Whitaker with the money intended for the arms deal. He bought the opium instead so he could turn an even bigger profit, but Bond intends to destroy the shipment so he won't have the money to buy the Russians their arms. So Bond plants a bomb into one of the opium bags, rides back into the airbase, and stores it on an outgoing plane. Just as he is found out, the Mujaheddin raid the place, and Kara and Necros climb on board. Bond disposes of Necros and disarms his bomb, only to drop it on a bridge to halt the Soviet's pursuit of the Mujaheddin.

Back in Tangier, Felix Leiter aids 007 in a raid on Whitaker's home. He encounters and fights the man, which ends when Bond knocks a statue of the Duke of Wellington onto him. Then Pushkin happens to show up and arrests Koskov. Our film ends with Kara performing in Vienna, then retiring to her dressing room for a private rendez-vous with Bond. You are now free to turn off your TV.

If you haven't noticed by now, The Living Daylights hosts, by my judgement, the most complex plot of any of the James Bond films. Here are some hints to help you sort through it all: Kara is initially Koskov's girlfriend. Pushkin wants Koskov out of office for embezzlement, and Koskov spread lies about him to fight back. Whitaker bought opium from the Afghan tribes in order to make more money than from trading weapons alone. With those pointers in tow, I would highly recommend this otherwise lesser-known entry. I wouldn't advise you to start out with it, but once you acclimate yourself with the franchise, you simply must get to it at some point. 4 out of 5.

+ Timothy Dalton's serious performance as Bond.
+ Good chemistry between Dalton and Maryam d'Abo.
+ Intricate plot (could also be a negative).

- Overly complex plot (could also be a positive).
- Jeroen Krabbe and Joe Don Baker are campy villains.
- Less-than-stellar theme song, unless you like '80s pop.

The Call: 80% (B)

IchigoRyu will return in
Licence To Kill

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