Every time there’s a new James Bond, you can count on hearing the same thing: This is the real James Bond. This is the hard-as-nails guy Fleming wrote about, much more so than any of those guys who preceded him. And so it was with Timothy Dalton, who took over from Roger Moore in The Living Daylights (1987). Like For Your Eyes Only, it’s another shot at getting back to basics.
The story. Bond is assigned to help Gen. Koskov (Jeroem Krabbe) escape to the West by killing an assassin out to stop him. when Bond spots the assassin, Kara (Maryam D’Abo), he realizes she has no idea how to shoot. He settles for shooting it out of her hands, thereby scaring the living daylights out of her (this part taken from the same-name Fleming short story).
Safe in England, Koskov warns that the new KGB head, Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies) is going to heat up the Cold War, and provides a list of intelligence figures on the hit list. He’s promptly kidnapped, his handlers killed and the list destroyed. M assigns Bond to take out Pushkin, but 007 starts hunting Kara instead. When he finds her, posing as Koskov’s ally, he learns she’s Koskov’s lover and her rifle was loaded with blanks. With her unwitting help, Bond begins tracking the real villains.
We learn Koskov’s defection is an elaborate ruse. Koskov and his partner Whitaker (Joe Don Baker) have accepted a heavy down payment from Pushkin for modern weaponry to use in the Afghanistan occupation (at the time, the Soviets were the ones fighting the natives). They’ve invested the money in diamonds to trade for heroin; after they sell the heroin, they’ll have money enough to buy the weapons and a huge profit left. Pushkin’s figuring this out, so he has to die.
He doesn’t, of course, and the real villains do. At the film’s end, M and the Soviet General Gogol (Walter Gotell) watch Kara make her debut at Carnegie Hall (Bond gives her his own congratulations backstage).
The Bond. I like Dalton. He has the same hard edge that Daniel Craig brought to the character a couple of decades later. I also think my friend Ross has a point, that Dalton approaches Bond as an actor—not that he’s giving a better performance or a better actor, but it feels like he’s trying to flesh out his character some. He genuinely seems to have some affection for Kara rather than just seeing her as a new conquest (though tries seduce her before she knows his identity, so his affection obviously didn’t stretch that far).
His waiting until the end to sleep with her got a lot of attention when this came out (it was credited to the then-sexual fears about AIDS) but I think it’s exaggerated. He does, presumably, sleep with the attractive woman in the teaser, and he’s putting moves on Kara mid-film. I find it more noteworthy that it’s the first time Bond’s smoked cigarettes since (I believe) Diamonds Are Forever (Moore smoked cigars, but no cigarettes, IIRC).
Another interesting point is that when a minor official rebukes Bond for not killing Kara, Bond retorts that he doesn’t give a damn about his orders—and if M doesn’t like it, he’ll give in his resignation. I can easily see Connery or Moore refusing to kill in the same situation, but not showing the disrespect for authority (which becomes a bigger issue in the next film).
The girl. D’Abo is charming in the role, and follows the post Spy Who Loved Me trend of playing a much bigger role than the villains (Koskov’s personal hit man is a cipher, so there’s no Jaws or Oddjob to grab the spotlight)
The politics. As License to Thrill notes, this, like Octopussy, has lots of Cold War trappings (at one point Bond allies with the Afghanistan mujahadeen) but a post-Cold War spirit. The Soviets may be the enemy, but it’s the renegade Koskov and Whitaker who are really killing American agents. At the end, Britain and the USSR come together to watch Kara’s performance.
This was a great debut for Dalton. It’s a shame his next, much-inferior film, would be his last.