Nov 9, 2009

Bond Week: Day 1

This will be the first in a series of themed weeks, during which I’ll be watching seven films that are in some way linked, be it that they are part of a series, the work of the same director, actor or actress, or even that they share a theme or genre. I thought I’d start off with a series I have embarrassingly little experience of…

Bond, James Bond

Licence To Kill (1989)
Dir: John Glen

It’s a shame that Timothy Dalton’s stint as James Bond was short and unloved, because his two films in the role are two of the best I’ve seen in the series. Licence To Kill is the only Bond ever to get a 15 certificate. These days it’s pretty mild for that category (indeed the 12 certificate Casino Royale is considerably more brutal) but twenty years ago this must have been a shock to Bond fans. The Roger Moore era of arched eyebrows and awful puns was, clearly, well and truly over. Dalton’s Bond was a tougher, meaner, more mercenary proposition. The quips are largely absent, as are many signature lines and moments and in their place is an unrepentantly violent Bond, gone rogue, seeking revenge on a drug lord (Robert Davi) who, at the beginning of the film, maims Felix Leiter and murders his wife.

Many of the qualities so lauded in Daniel Craig’s Bond are visible here, and Dalton really should get credit (as should director John Glen) for trying to take the series in a new direction with this film. Licence To Kill, despite the fact that it finds Bond working outside MI6, and with his licence to kill revoked (original title Licence Revoked was changed because, apparently, it was feared that Americans wouldn’t know what ‘revoked’ meant) still feels very much like a Bond film. We get the expected exotic locations, we get the girls - notably the stunningly lovely Carey Lowell, whose Pam Bouvier is a Bond Girl more capable than most - and we get Q (Desmond Llewellyn), very well used in an extended role. The difference is that it is all delivered with a harder edge. Robert Davi’s Sanchez is no cat-stroking megalomaniac, he’s a drug dealer, and a perfectly loathsome one at that, and it is his brutality that lands Licence To Kill with its certificate.

This is a lean, mean, focused film; one that matches its James Bond perfectly. It more than delivers the action goods, with a climactic truck chase and several excellent aerial stunts being especially thrilling and the performances (bar that of the robotic, if lovely, Talisa Soto) are generally very strong. Dalton is particularly good, and certainly more convincing as a rogue Bond than Daniel Craig was in Quantum of Solace. I really enjoyed Licence To Kill, and it baffles me that it was so poorly received that Dalton never got to develop this take on the character and the series very nearly died in its wake.

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