The Living Daylights Review

For more of our The Living Daylights, check out this week’s That Bond Show.

Released in 1987 on the 25th anniversary of the James Bond film series, the 15th Bond film The Living Daylights serves as a rejuvenating force for the world’s most famous secret agent. After the more staid and at times tired films that closed out Roger Moore’s era with the character, new Bond Timothy Dalton brings a darkness and world weariness to the role that is utterly refreshing and a major tonal shift. 

Praise enough can’t be given to what Timothy Dalton does with the character of James Bond here. Indeed, coming in the wake of the last few Moore performances the whiplash between the two actors’ ages and also characterizations is huge. Dalton sought to really delve into the complexities of Bond and the darker elements of who James Bond would be and it pays off wonderfully. 

The lineage between Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton, and Daniel Craig’s Bonds are obvious watching through the movies now and the three all sought to pursue a more brutal, complex, and serious 007. Dalton in particular would point out again and again that James Bond isn’t a role model. That while he does great things he also does plenty of bad and his treatment of others could be far less than ideal. In Dalton’s portrayal, James is a man just shy of having a death wish: right on the cusp of being burnt out and easily one who is turned off by the bureaucracy of the world in which he is living. 

Yet, Dalton combines this with a simmering charm to his Bond. It is far more subtle than Moore’s Bond in this way and closer to the Connery Bond who combined a charm and magnetism with an intense sense of power and danger just beneath the surface. Dalton’s Bond is anything but the tired trope of him being bland and devoid of personality. His is a James Bond rich in characterization. 

All of which pays off wonderfully in one of the strongest female characters the series has had up to this point in Kara. It would have been so easy to paint Kara as a simple damsel in distress Bond character, the naive cello player who doesn’t know one end of a rifle from the other. There is far more to her than that and the evolving relationship between her and Bond feels totally earned and real and is helped by the wonderful chemistry the two actors have together. It is high praise that Kara actually feels like someone Bond could have genuinely developed a real relationship with by the film’s end. 

Kara also is a delight in how she fleshes out new sides of James, both good and bad. The idea that James is only telling her partial truths throughout the film and that being what, if only momentarily, derails the mission and their bond is a fantastic choice. Highlighting how the deceptions and lies around James have very real consequences, something the following Dalton movie will explore to even greater effect. 

This movie further nails the vibe and aesthetic of the cold war. Particularly in the film’s first act it is closer to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy than a traditional Bond film and it works to fantastic effect, steeping us into the grime and shadows of the era. Taking inspiration from prior films in the series like From Russia with Love in this regard, it is excellent stuff and if anything I wish we had gotten more of it. 

The movie’s biggest weakness might be in its two villains in Koskov and Brad Whitaker. My That Bond Show co-host definitely likes Koskov a little more then me, but he is a great scheming baddie numerous steps ahead of everyone else, and the idea that he is playing up this goofy dumb version of himself to trick both the East and West is wonderful and works out perfectly for him. If not for pure dumb luck, Koskov’s plan works without a hitch at the end. All of which is showcased in the wonderful performance by his actor who is having a ball playing the larger than life character driving so much of the film’s narrative. 

Whitaker though is fine and a little bit like Octopussy, we’ve got two main villains when one really would have been enough. It’s even more baffling due to the fact that Whitaker and Bond only have one face to face meeting in the whole film and it is when they engage in an admittedly great shootout against each other. He met his Waterloo indeed, James. 

The Living Daylights just feels like such a jump forward from the Roger Moore era. The film looks and feels like an 80’s movie in a way that none of Roger Moore’s ever did. The camerawork and musical score only help to further the point that this is a very new era of Bond, one that in some ways is the biggest series refresh since the start. 

Quick, well paced, beautifully shot, and featuring one of the series’ very best Bond performances by Timothy Dalton here, The Living Daylights is a triumph of a movie and one I was so happy to see I enjoyed as much as I did. It was a welcome clean break with the preceding few films and wonderfully sets up the next 3 decades of the Bond series and the tone and themes they would increasingly explore. Fantastic stuff. 

Best Moments: 

I really love the pre-titles sequence of The Living Daylights and think it’s one of my favorites of the series. I always love getting to see 007 working with other 00 Agents and the idea of them doing a wargames exercise is great and pulls together so well. What a fantastic introduction for Timothy Dalton as Bond. 

Shoutout also to Koskov’s defection scene and nailing a perfect blend of genuine espionage moments and fun Bond humor and excitement. Timothy Dalton has no personality my ass. 

Oh also an extra special shoutout to Necros fighting the random MI6 agent in the kitchen. Trevor went into more on the pod but it is both great to see someone other than Bond hold their own and also a fantastic and brutal fight in its own right. Maybe the best pure fight scene we’ve had in the series since the Connery era and James isn’t even there. Fantastic.

The Villains: 

I think Koskov is great and Whitaker is fine. I do want to give a shoutout to Necros who I think is among the stronger big bad blond euro baddies of the series. If all those guys are just doing an impression of Red Grant from From Russia with Love, Necros easily stands the tallest and makes it the most his own. Even more so thanks to the great recurring musical cues when he is about to take out someone, with the music coming from his walkman. A great ensemble. 8.5/10.

Q Lab: 

God, I missed having an Aston Martin in a Bond movie. A fantastic reintroduction after having been absent in the series since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969. It’s a great gadget backed car that evokes the Aston Martin from Goldfinger in all the best ways. Not much else but damn that car is great. 7.5/10 

Final Review: 

The Living Daylights is a fantastic rebirth of James Bond and the larger series. It is such a disappointment that the ensuing Timothy Dalton era would be so short lived but what we get here and in its follow up more than holds its own against so much of the rest of the series. 

As it is, we have one of the very best performances by a Bond actor, a compelling relationship between Bond and Kara, great fun villains, and an exciting and engaging story that actually invests itself into the espionage aspects of James and the larger world. Brilliant all around. 9/10. A great introduction for Dalton.

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