Thursday, 12 April 2012

Licence to Kill (1989)

As the only 15-rated Bond movie, Licence to Kill promised a darker, grittier, more violent side to 007. Clearly it was decided that Dalton was the man capable of exploring this aspect of Her Majesty’s Government’s most eligible bachelor, and where Connery was suave and Moore was comic relief, Dalton is really able to convey Bond’s stretched emotions.

Set against the backdrop of Felix Leiter’s wedding, Bond, Leiter and the DEA go after notorious drug lord Franz Sanchez, culminating in an understated but impressive stunt as 007 is lowered onto Sanchez' cessna from a moving helicopter. With Sanchez’ plane captured, Bond and Leiter then parachute into the wedding; the 'chutes making longer trains than the bride’s. However, when Sanchez is sprung from capture he comes after Leiter, feeds him to a shark and kills his new wife. Distraught by his close friends’ fate, 007 goes on a mission of retribution to get Sanchez.

The revenge story allows 007 to be far more callous than usual. In particular he is quite brutal when he pushes Killifer into the water with the shark, and very brutal when he sets Sanchez on fire; you can really see the hatred in his eyes. Actually he shows nothing but contempt for anyone associated with Sanchez' organisation. He also shows barely contained contempt for Her Majesty’s government when he is told that he is not allowed to avenge Leiter and his wife. This follows on from his "Sod my orders" attitude in The Living Daylights. All of these feelings are conveyed so well by Dalton, who is able to communicate so much with his eyes and a tilt or shake of the head.

Carey Lowell as Pam Bouvier is a strong character for a Bond girl; when we first really meet her she is in a seedy bar armed with a shotgun. Bond tries to marginalise her by telling her to buy something pretty as his executive secretary, and constantly telling her to go home; but she persists and uses her own initiative to infiltrate Sanchez’ lair towards the end (with the help of Q of course). Talisa Soto’s character (Lupe) is also quite well written; though little more than Sanchez’ decoration, she is weaved into the story in such a way that when she finally falls for 007 it doesn’t feel forced at all. Though the “I love James SO much” line is a bit naff, as Pam sarcastically imitates.

Robert Davi is pretty good as Franz Sanchez the drug lord. Despite his clearly cliched 80s wardrobe, he manages to be a calm and relaxed psychopath. It seems strange that he is willing to throw everything away at the end (I’m sure a fire blanket would have helped control the initial fire at the processing plant), announcing that it is only money; but then you remember that he prizes loyalty over money and then everything about his character makes sense. Equally he punishes disloyalty, and Davi is calm but ruthless as he deals out his justice. Davi actually had his script translated into Spanish to learn his lines with the proper cadence; according to my 007 encyclopedia anyway. The other villain of note is a young Benicio del Toro, who manages to impress even as just a henchman; it’s not often such a good actor is cast as a stooge.

Not quite up to the high standard of The Living Daylights, but the film benefits from a simple linear plot, strong characters all round, some massive explosions and of course Timothy Dalton. Now that John Barry had left the series it was up to Michael Kamen to provide the score, and if I’m honest, I hardly noticed it. When I did notice, it sounded quite 80s with a bit of a hispanic twang. I think the only trouble I had with the film was the explanation of recovering the cocaine from gasoline. I’m sure it is a perfectly feasible process, but I’m also sure that letting it dribble from a burette through an empty funnel into a beaker, and then filtering it through blotting paper isn’t the way. Sanchez actually says “Do you want us to tell you all our secrets?”, it would have been better if they hadn’t. I’m only mentioning this because I find it difficult to take my science hat off when watching films; actually Licence to Kill is one of the better Bond films. Good solid plot, strong characters, all of which are performed very well, and some excellent action. When writers Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum along with John Glen’s directions get it right, the last two films show that they really do get it right; unfortunate there were a couple of turkeys along the way. It’s wholesale change of cast and crew for the next exciting installment of Blogalongabond though.

Order of Preference so far:


  1. I'm a fan of this Bond film. In fact the two Dalton Bonds are among my favourite Bond films. I loved the darker edge they both had, especially this one. It just felt more real. There were higher stakes. Things couldn't just be laughed off.

    1. Hi Jaina, I 100% agree with you. Some of the Moore films are entertaining, and of course Sean is very suave, but in the two Dalton films it felt like the outcome really mattered. Also the edge that the Dalton films had is so much better than any speed boat-gondolas, double-taking pigeons or Blofelds in drag!

    2. I almost forgot about the double-taking pigeons! Feels like a whole other universe.

    3. I know (shudder), November was a bad month!