Sunday, November 25, 2012

License to Kill - Rulthess Killer Bond

License to Kill - 1989

Bond:  Timothy Dalton
Directed by: John Glen
Produced by: Albert R. Broccoli
Theme: "License to Kill" performed by Gladys Knight

While The Living Daylights only grossed about as much as A View to a Kill in the U.S., it's worldwide box office made it the third highest grossing Bond film to that day, just behind For Your Eyes Only and Moonraker. As a result, the producers, director, and writers decided to go all out with the gritty and more realistic style that fit with Dalton's scenery chewing when they made License to Kill. While it may have resulted in better "cinema", the resulting dark and violent film just didn't play well to an Eighties audience high off Reagan-era economic success in the waning days of the Cold War. They'd have to wait until Daniel Craig and a post-9/11, post-waterboarding world for that level of gritty uncomfortable realism to play to a wide audience.

License to Kill does a couple of things right, and a lot of things wrong. The film makes the best use of actor Desmond Llewelyn as Q of any movie in the franchise. Why he wasted so many years in the lab, I'll never know. He was meant to be out in the field helping Bond.

A very young Benicio del Toro plays the henchman Dario with an intensity you would expect. Unfortunately he's noticeably absent form the second third of the movie, before showing up at the end. He's one of four Oscar winning actors to appear in Bond films. Christopher Walken had already won an Oscar before he appeared as Zorin. The other three would win their Oscars after making their appearance in a Bond film: Sean Connery (The Untouchables), Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love), and del Toro (Traffic).

There are several other interesting casting notes about this movie. Robert Davi, who plays the drug-lord villain Sanchez, appeared as Agent Johnson in Die Hard one year earlier. His partner in that film, also Agent Johnson, was played by Grand Bush, who plays a DEA agent in this film. They even have a scene together with DEA agent Ed Killifer, played by Everett McGill, who Twin Peaks fans will recognize as Ed Hurley of Big Ed's Gas Farm:

From License to Kill:

From Die Hard:
-"I was in Junior High, dickhead."

From Twin Peaks:
My wife is crazy and wears an eye patch!

Also in Die Hard was The Living Daylights henchman Andreas Wisniewski. He was this guy:

 Now I have a machine gun. Ho Ho Ho.

But now I'm getting sidetracked. David Hedison became the first actor to play Felix Leiter twice, returning to the part 16 years after playing him in Live and Let Die. This movie opens with Leiter getting married. When his bride gives Bond the garter, Bond gets all sulky and leaves. Leiter says "He was married once, but that was a long time ago." Damn right it was. It was twenty years ago. I have a hard time buying Dalton's Bond as the same guy wearing a frilly tuxedo shirt and saying "I do" to Diana Rigg, Although I guess I shouldn't. Dalton was offered the role of Bond way back then in his early twenties. How different would the Bond universe be if Dalton had played the part for twenty years and Moore never gotten the chance?

On their wedding night, Leiter's wife is killed by Sanchez, and Leiter is fed to a shark but survives. This launches Bond on a vendetta to get Sanchez. Now, I'm all for a good revenge flick, but this movie goes wrong in a couple of ways. For one, the idea that Bond is out for blood because Leiter lost his wife on his wedding night the same way that Bond did is never fully realized. It's implied, by the aforementioned exchange, but it's never named. So really, Bond looks like he's just gone crazy.

Then he goes off and starts killing people. Yes, Bond is a killer by trade, but it's a little disturbing and out of character to see him killing people just to kill them. Not only that, but he never has any moral qualms about it. He never grapples with the ramifications of his actions or really goes on any sort of journey as a character. Making Bond a cold blooded killer doesn't make him very sympathetic. 

Carey Lowell
Talisa Soto
Then, for all it's attempt at realism, the movie tacks on a typical love-at-first-sight Bond love triangle. I can buy Talisa Soto as Lupe, Sanchez's arm candy, but Carey Lowell does not work for me as a bad-ass former Army pilot, especially considering how poorly she acts in this film. Was she as bad in Law and Order? I don't remember. In any case, they both fall instantly in love with James in spite of the fact that he's a psychotic asshole in this movie. At least Lowell and Llewelyn have good chemistry. 

This movie marked the end of a lot of eras in Bond-dom. It was the last movie for Albert Broccoli (producer), Richard Maibaum (writer), John Glen (director), Maurcie Binder (title designer), Robert Brown (M), and Dalton. It was also the first movie of the franchise not to take its title from one of Ian Fleming's original Bond novels or short stories. In the end, it grossed less than A View to a Kill, and it would be six years before another Bond film would be released.

Personal Rankings: This is a tough one to place, because for all its faults, it is a well-made film. Based solely on which movies I would rather watch, it slips in below A View to a Kill.
  1. Goldfinger
  2. From Russia With Love
  3. The Spy Who Loved Me
  4. Live and Let Die
  5. You Only Live Twice
  6. The Living Daylights
  7. For Your Eyes Only
  8. Dr. No
  9. Octopussy
  10. Diamonds Are Forever
  11. A View to a Kill
  12. License to Kill
  13. Thunderball
  14. The Man with the Golden Gun
  15. Moonraker

1989 Context
President: George H. W. Bush
Queen: Elizabeth II

The Berlin Wall fell.

Best Picture Nominees:

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