Sunday, November 05, 2006

Bond Watch: Timothy Dalton

Been ages since I last reported in on Mr Bond, and I’ve only “Die Another Day” still to go. But here’s the notes I had written up so far.

The Living Daylights
Cor, that was a bit good. Fast-moving and plotty and smart, and daring to try new things. This is the best Bond film in ages.

In Vienna, Bond helps a Soviet general defect, but won’t kill the sniper he’s meant to. The pretty girl, he says, didn’t know how to handle a gun.

In England, the general explains to Bond’s superiors that the KGB are now committed to killing other countries’ spies. He’s then recaptured, and Bond finds himself questioning the sense of the story the general told. So he disobeys orders to go back to Vienna, to look up the pretty girl…

The story is not hugely different from the previous three – a rogue element whose business interests are mucking up d├ętente. But Living Daylights also feels like it’s about something real: Afghan rebels and opium wars are as much in the news today.

(I’m disappointed they never did as the rumours dared suggest, resurrecting Art Malik’s Oxford-educated Mujhadeen leader, but this time he’s considered a baddie…)

Dalton famously plays the Bond of Fleming’s novels, thuggishly brutal when he needs to be and straining at the MI6 leash. He freely disobeys orders – not killing who he’s told to, buying different wine, and embarking on a mission he’s just been told not to. He’s fiercely instinctive, and glowers when he gets told off.

For a 25-year old movie franchise – and a much older character – that means you really don’t know what to expect. Bond is dangerous and exciting, and he isn’t making quiche.

He’s always working the angles, and there’s some great stuff done with his tetchiness. I love the look of exasperation when Kara doesn’t understand she should get on the plane.

I note from the DVD extras that the soldiers on Gibraltar consist of the franchise’s stuntmen. I get the sense they went, "Cor, a Bond whose knees still work. That gives me an idea…” It’s not just that Dalton can lead the action. The evil milkman is the first time we really have a big special-effects stunt sequence that doesn’t feature Bond.

The evil milkman is another in the line of blond, blue-eyed Bond villains – though only in A View To A Kill is the Nazi subtext made explicit. Perhaps that explains this rubbish about Daniel Craig not being 007 what with the colour of his hair. But no, you fools, MI6 have recruited just the chap to fool their dastard foes.

John Barry delivers an exceptional, final Bond score – full of pace and energy. The Pretenders make the villains cool and the slushy love bits not too slushy. All in all, a smart, thrilling movie which promises many more years yet of Bond…

Licence to Kill
Or “Kilt”, as Glady Knight insists. Oh dear, oh dear. There’s so much good stuff in this and yet it’s really quite a mess.

Dalton’s tetchy Bond having been quite successful, his next film makes him much tetchier. The opening is unlike anything we’ve seen before. There’s grittier noise and music, and one of the first things said is “Bastard”. (I think its producer Michael G Wilson who says it, too, so it’s a real statement of intent).

Felix Leiter is getting married and wants Bond to be his best man. Presumably they’ve seen each other socially since they last worked together in the early 70s…

Felix now works for the DEA, and on their way to the ceremony Bond helps him catch a big drug dealer. But the drug dealer escapes and enacts terrible revenge. So Bond gets revengey too. When M tells him to pack it in and act just a little professional, Bond cheekily runs away…

Yeah, this is an odd one. In the pre-titles sequence, it’s strange to see Bond not working on his own, and being a bit of a team-player. Yes, he’s the one to go out on the wire, but it still feels like he’s playing second fiddle. There’s something small and mundane about him not saving the world but helping the police catch a criminal.

And then he runs off on his own. Always before, Bond has been something of a policeman – investigating crime and on the side of the angels. Here he’s a vicious Iago, poisoning Sanchez’s organisation from the ground up. That stuff works well, Bond being sly and using his experience and training. But the film can’t decide whether it wants to be fun or not.

There’s a big thing made about loyalty – which is more important than money to both Bond and Sanchez. But without the authority of MI6, it does feel like a high-pissing competition. Yes, it may all be about honour, but I’ve sympathy with M’s perspective on, “This sentimental rubbish”.

The sentimental stuff is oddly played. There’s some weird flirty thing going on between Bond and Dellah – she snogs him and gives him her garter. It reminded me uncomfortably of what Anthony Burgess called Ian Fleming’s own “Bondian self-indulgence”, his “rather cold love-making with other men’s wives”.

I suppose it’s to set up how close they all are, and explain why he’s so angry about what’s done to her. But they can’t be that close as she doesn’t know about his past: “He was married once,” explains Leiter, “but it was a long time ago.” Yes, it’s been two decades since OHMSS.

Benicio del Toro later preens that he and is cronies gave Dellah a “nice honeymoon”, and then Leiter gets fed to the sharks. This is markedly more nasty than previous Bond films, though the same thing happens to Leiter in the book of “Live and Let Die” (meaning that in John Gardner’s novel of “Licence to Kill” there’s something along the lines of, “Oh no, not again!”).

Dalton is excellent, and I like his sticky-up hair. He comes across as smart and resourceful while at the same time a dangerous arsehole. The thing about Bond is you want him on your side…

Del Toro and his boss, Robert Davi, are not camp villains in the vein of their predecessors – they’re vicious and horribly realistic. The damage done to people is much more horrific: in many ways its worse that Leiter survives, bereft of one leg and most of an arm. Bond’s body is replete with scars – as is Talisa Soto’s. And the deaths are much more dwelt on.

Imagine another film with the grinder sequence. We’d seen Benicio del Toro go into the grinder, the mess, and then Bond saying, “No need to be cut up about it.” Here, we see him hanging from Bond, then a shot of his feet going into the grinder, a shot of bloody mess, and then back to him hanging from Bond. For all Bond has seen off his enemies before, this is far more vivid and sadistic. And there’s no quip to undercut the violence – a signature effect in James Bond.

Which would all be fine were the film more consistent. The water-ski sequence is the like a jump back to the fun Bond of old, and the bar-room brawl is full of gags as if from a Roger Moore movie. There’s then a silly scene set in the London office, with Moneypenny being all weepy. A bit of levity is all very welcome at this point, but its very oddly judged. Can we really believe she’d be so schoolgirlishly silly about the vicious and surly Bond played by Dalton?

Another thought: For the first time since You Only Live Twice, Bond does not stop at home. We glimpse England – and Moneypenny – in a throwaway scene.

Anyway, things then get really peculiar. Moneypenny sends out Q to be of some assistance to the rogue and on-the-run former 007. Q really is the least likely assistant on a mission of vengeance, and I suspect the production team’s desperation at working Desmond Llewellyn into the story.

There’s something odd about him and Bond sharing a room, and how did he get his explosives through customs? The man’s meant to be having a holiday!

The silly gags with Q seem flippant and ill-judged, bumped up against the more vicious stuff. It doesn’t seem very well thought through. Since his never joking about his work in “Goldfinger”, there’s been a running gag about how Bond treats his precious equipment. But when Q reports in with his radio-broom (!) he then just throws it into a hedge. Where did it come from in the first place, and does he throw it away?

It makes undercuts any tension. The astonishing finale with the exploding oil tankers is seen off by Bond having girl trouble because of a misunderstanding. It’s a stupid situation, and Bond’s brilliant solution is to jump into a swimming pool with his clothes on. (Someone does this at Leiter’s wedding earlier, too, and they also look like a twat.)

Even that would be forgivable, but while he snogs the lady, one of the statues winks at him. And then an excruciatingly mimsy song starts up. And everything’s meant to be all okay because MI6 say they’ll give Bond his job back.

But if I was them, I’d not bother. For all Dalton is brilliant, his Bond is too much the bastard, too fond of breaking the rules. Much easier to get someone else, and ensure he knows his place…

1 comment:

Rob Stradling said...

Both the Dalton movies are over-rated; TLD because it's a good Bond movie that feels like a great Bond movie, until you pay attention; LTK because there are still two or three deluded people in the world who remain unconvinced that this is the worst Bond movie of all by a clear distance.

TLD is smart, fun, and exciting, and it's only when the diamonds sub-plot kicks in that you realise that none of it has actually been about anything. That's okay, though, because Tim is cool, Maryam is gorgeous, the music is back on-message, and there's an Aston Martin...

LTK simply cowers in the shadow of the Lethal Weapon franchise. Bond must be "brought up to date" (yawn!) which in this case means sadism, buddy humour, dated-by-next-Wednesday rock music and winking fucking fish. Okay, so we get "Live & Let Die" and "The Hildebrandt Rarity" in there somewhere, but it's all lost in the mire. And then "gritty, realistic" Bond pulls a "gritty, realistic" wheelie in a "gritty, realistic" artic cabin, while the bad guy fires "gritty, realistic" anti-aircraft missiles at him. He misses of course, so it's back home for tea and medals, and jokey phonecalls with the crippled friend whose wife got raped, and then the damaged, vengeful Bond jumps into a pool with a gay fish.

An interesting period piece, perhaps - but as a Bond movie, it's an unparalleled disaster.