|fig. 1: There's no chance I'll regret this in twenty years|
Roger Moore is out. A new James Bond, Timothy Dalton, is in. Like his successor Pierce Brosnan, Dalton fairly haunted the casting announcements prior to his landing the role. Though his path to succession wasn't nearly the public back-and-forth Brosnan's was, Dalton was seen for the role as early as 1967, demurring at first because he thought he was too young, then later in the early 1980's due to other commitments. Though he's remembered for a performance that bordered on the dour, this is I think largely in contrast to Moore's twinkling eye and talent for double-entendres. Dalton will turn in a much darker turn two years on in Licence to Kill, but here he plays the part with a lighter touch than he's remembered for.
|fig. 2: Not a Bond villain. I mean, probably.|
Whitaker bears more than a passing resemblance to the execrable Ollie North, and The Living Daylights, a film preoccupied with an unscrupulous American selling weapons to be used in the Middle East, premiered a year after the first news of the Iran Contra scandal broke. Though, of course, in this film, Whitaker is a non-state actor, a cartoonish parody of American militarism who has statues of all the great war criminals throughout history remade with his face. The cartoonishness lets everybody get away with their hands clean. The British and American meddling in Afghanistan, even the Russians come off looking good in the form of John Rhys Davies General Pushkin, who forms a temporary alliance with Bond to defeat Whitaker and the Soviet defector who is helping him. Like Tomorrow Never Dies a decade later, this film doesn't bother with any of the ambiguity of James Bond's profession or of the imperialist tug-of-war he wanders in to.
Watching The Living Daylights with the benefit of almost thirty years of hindsight is a surreal experience. It's impossible to imagine a film made today set in 1987 that would treat Bond's chummy alliance with a cadre of mujaheddin fighters with anything like the complete lack of irony and self-awareness this film does. They're noble savages led by a guy who sounds like he could have studied at Eton with Bond. (I looked him up, and the actor, Art Malik, is in fact from Pakistan, which, by the standards of these types of blockbusters, is eminently Close Enough).
|fig. 3: The actual line here: "I'm sorry we're late. We had some trouble at the airport."|