Friday, 22 March 2013

Best Bond: Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights

Timothy Dalton was the fourth man to portray James Bond in The Living Daylights.

I actually liked the Living Daylights more than I expected to. The villains are not particularly remarkable, and the moments that are pure 80's sting in the wrong way, but I still found fairly entertaining and intriguing thanks to something I will get to in the review. The reasons my expectations ran low came from my feelings toward Dalton's second outing as Bond License to Kill. License to Kill I thought was a particularly bizarre experience as it would have down right brutal violence mixed in with silliness. For example it goes from a scene of Benicio Del Toro being ground up by metal grinders, far too graphically for a Bond film, but then soon afterwards Bond is chasing the bad guys by driving a truck on only one set of wheels which just makes it a bizarre cluster of tones that do not mold together well. The Living Daylights does not fully avoid this, as I will get to, but it certainly does a better job of it on a whole.

Timothy Dalton, who potentially could be one of my favorite actors if casting directors did not seem to hate him so much, actually was long considered for Bond going all the way back to 1969 for On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Dalton turned down the role feeling he was too young then, and he was probably right considering how youthful he looked in the Lion in Winter just a year before. Dalton continued to miss the part several more time until this film, although the funny thing was he would actually have lost it in favor of future Bond Pierce Brosnan if Brosnan's show Remington Steele was actually canceled as it appeared it was going to be.

Dalton though finally managed to secure the part officially ending the reign of Roger Moore as Bond whose films just got sillier and sillier as they went along and the only thing that changed about Moore as Bond was the amount of wrinkles he had in the role. Dalton, although obviously would be different than Moore to begin with, decided that he was going to take a wholly different approach from all previous Bonds and especially from Moore who always went for the lighter route when it came to Bond as a character. Dalton, a fan of the novels, decided to find the dark truth of the character who when you go right down to it is a killer for the government.

Because I really like this portrayal I should say what I don't like about it first. The Living Daylights did not seem to revise its script all that much for Dalton's take on Bond. In fact I gotta say this seems to be a case where the actor seems to be doing all the heavy lifting with little help from the actual film. One big reason for this is in a few cases it has him doing some things that seem far more fitting of the Moore Bond such as when Bond cares to spend more time looking at a beautiful cellist than staying on task, or his scenes with Miss Moneypenny. Dalton is not bad in these scenes and he does his very best to do them with some charm but they don't really fit in with the rest of his characterization.

Dalton's characterization of Bond really goes for the throat, and tries to get as deep as he can into the character even when the film does not wish to. It is quite remarkable considering Dalton does this all just as the plot goes along its way early leaving any time for character moments. Early in the film Dalton portrays Bond as a slick and suave spy although really downplayed and in very different fashion from Sean Connery but still effective in his own way. He is best at portraying Bond's conviction to his plans and his Bond shows a particular devotion in his mission, except of course in those poorly written moments of course. Dalton effortlessly conveys an intelligence in Bond that reflects a history of his Bond as man long at the espionage game.

This Bond though played by Dalton is still written with plenty of quips in mind, but Dalton actually meets these requirements fairly well through his much more unassuming charm that probably would be more realistic for someone in his profession. Dalton makes it work by firstly dishing out the quips swiftly and smoothly without giving too much emphasis to them, and as well he dials up and down brilliantly in the role. What I mean by that is he is very good in representing the action of a situation. Where it seems more extreme and frankly dark Dalton keep is serious pretty much the entire time. When the situation calls for a lighter approach he knows how to dial down the seriousness to the right degree, and he does an admirable job even though these moments are clearly opposed to what he wants to do with Bond.

His overarching portrayal of Bond that are the most true to his way is that of Bond as a spy who has seen a few too many missions and double crosses that leave him at least some what exasperated. Dalton is very good in showing Bond as a man much more on an edge and even suggests a bit of the John le Carre type spy at times that is quite effective. He portrays the internal struggle of the spy in a remarkable fashion considering he basically does it in the margins. He suggests a Bond who really could go over the edge from this life at one time, and my favorite moments are when he brings forward the hardships of the life.

My favorite scene of his performance has to be after one of his fellow operatives is killed. Dalton is brilliant as he really digs deep into the emotional pain of this and even possibly shows that this is something building up in Bond as it probably something he has seen before. The scene where he interrogates the Russian General after this is just incredible with the amount of intensity that he combines Bond's anger over the death of his ally, the instability in him of not knowing exactly what is going on, and even a certain sadness in regards to it being just a part of the job. It is a terrific scene that exemplifies exactly what Dalton gets right in the part which is making Bond into a man who is dealing with very stressful situations, and his portrayal honestly kept me interested in the film.

Throughout the film even when it is not to the main point Dalton handles it with precision and earnestness. He is great in the action scenes believable and appropriately smooth and brutal in proper measure. I have to say an interesting part of his performance is Bond's relationship with the film's Bond girl Kara Milovy (Maryam d'Abo), its interesting because Dalton is so genuine he suggests that Bond is entirely in love with her. This works for how the film goes about quite well, it might not be perfectly fitting as the Bond for the film series, but Dalton's method does work for this film as the conclusion of the film in particular suggests their relationship should be this way. I really like Dalton's take on Bond even though he has to fend off the weaknesses of the script. I believe that if he had say From Russia with Love at his disposal or Casino Royale he possibly could have been the very best Bond. As it is I still found his attempt to dig deeper in Bond quite admirable especially since he seemed almost to be doing it all on his own volition.


RatedRStar said...

I really liked him, loved the theme song by a-ha as well.

Anonymous said...

Look, I know that the 1967 Casino Royale doesn't count as a Bond film, but what is your opinion on David Niven and/or Peter Sellers? If you've seen the film.

Louis Morgan said...

I've seen parts of it and those parts did not compel me to watch it as a whole. Niven was just doing his usual thing, and I did not see much of Sellers.

Michael Patison said...

I agree that License to Kill was a major misfire, but I've always loved that oil tanker car chase. I personally think it's probably the best Bond action sequence of the 80s.

Louis Morgan said...

Well my problem with chase is not the chase itself, in fact I really enjoy how Bond takes down the bad guy at the end of it. My problem comes in how the chase seems in context with those scenes of brutal violence.

Michael Patison said...

Oh, I completely agree, Louis. That's always been my issue with both of Dalton's entries, as you so wonderfully discussed. The juxtaposition of the silly, poorly done romantics stuff of Roger Moore's films with the violence and brutality of several scenes just was done incredibly awkwardly and poorly. I'm not saying that such things can't be done well, but the silliness has to be more funny than stupid silly. The best example of excellent juxtaposition of this type for me is In Bruges.

Anonymous said...

I know what you mean, the only scene that got a little chuckle out of me was Woody Allens first scene.