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Saturday, August 12, 2006

LICENSE TO THRILL! 

At this point, there are only eight James Bond films left. Right before I reviewed Tomorrow Is Not Enough For The World To Never Die, I noticed that, if I wasn't careful, I might end up reviewing all the good movies and, at the end, I might have to review a bunch of the later Bond films that, while some of them are great fun, they are not necessarily interesting enough to me to want to take notes and pay attention and write the reviews. And I am trying to be careful so that I can finish with one of the fun, earlier films that I like so much. (Probable candidates are Diamonds Are Forever and Live And Let Die.) So, I'm kind of forcing myself to watch and review some movies that I just want to get out of the way. Which is giving me a bit of a BAD ATTITUDE, so I may not be entirely fair to some of these films. (But I was fair to Tomorrow Is Not Enough, wasn't I?) And I said some really nice things about Never Say Never Again.

Today, we're looking at License To Kill and thus completing the Timothy Dalton file. Even though I haven't reviewed a few of the films at this point, License To Kill is the only one I have never seen (except for the last few minutes when I went late to a double feature at the Vine Theatre in Hollywood and the crowd was yellling at the screen and really making fun of this movie). So, I'm kind of eager to see it so I can FINALLY announce that Moonraker is the worst James Bond film. If License To Kill is worse than Moonraker, I will really have accumulated some BAD ATTITUDE.

(At this point, Tony stops and pours a Coke and sits down to watch the movie. He decides not to take notes.)

(it is now the next day, and Tony does NOT have a bad attitude because License To Kill is a very good movie.)

License To Kill was Timothy Dalton's second (and last) James Bond film. It is a better film than The Living Daylights simply by virtue of the fact that a-ha didn't do the theme. (It's Gladys Knight.)

I'm kidding! License To Kill is a change of pace from the usual James Bond fare, and it is very well-done. The bad guy is not about to blow up the world with stolen nuclear missiles or anything like that. Everything is on a smaller scale. Timothy Dalton's James Bond is not a super-hero, like Pierce Brosnan. The action scenes are a lot more low-key, the stakes are not as high. The characters are still larger than life, but only a little larger than life.

I said in an earlier review that a little variety is a good thing in a series that has gone on as long as this one. License To Kill is a great example of risk-taking that works. I really liked this film, and I found nothing to make fun of. (It made a lot of money in foreign markets, but it didn't really catch on with the American audiences. (It's not Dalton's fault, and I don't think it's the fault of the filmmakers. Audiences were still smarting from the shocking effect of Olivia d'Abo's hair and clothes from The Living Daylights.) This disappointing U.S. box office is why there was a gap between License to Kill and Goldeneye as the filmmakers struggled with a new direction for Bond. And Timothy Dalton was not jettisoned because his Bond movies made less money than other '80s Bond films. It was Dalton's choice, because he preferred a more "realistic" James Bond, closer to the spirit of the Fleming novels. (More on this rather naive notion later.)

License To Kill is a pretty grim film. Dalton James Bond is in a very bad mood throughout the film. Which is understandable, considering the catalytic events that drive Bond. On the way to Felix Leiter's wedding (where Bond will be best man), the two agents are side-tracked into helping to intercept a Latin American drug lord named Sanchez. (Sanchez has left the safety of his stronghold in Panama to go to Key West to get his girlfriend, who has fled with another lover. Hey, after you've seen his girlfriend (played by Talisa Soto), you never question why he exposed himself to capture by entering American jurisdiction.) Sanchez is captured, but a crooked DEA agent helps him escape - really quickly! - and he gets his revenge on Leiter by sending his hoods to Leiter's home right after the wedding, capture Leiter and kill his wife (it's later implied they raped her as well).

So it's rather understandable that Bond is in a bad mood. He misses the plane back to England where he has an assignment waiting and starts off on a mission of VENGEANCE against Sanchez. He resigns from British intelligence. His "license to kill" is revoked. And Felix has been eaten by a shark! (He gets better. This is a scene from the book version of Live And Let Die that wasn't used when it was filmed. Another sequence from Live And Let Die - the book - was neglected in the film version and used in another film. The conclusion, where Bond and Solitaire are chained together and dragged by a boat over the reef, was used in For Your Eyes Only.)

So Timothy Dalton is a rather dour James Bond. He has no sense of humor. He seldom smiles. He is mean to his friends. (And his vendetta gets several colleagues killed.) He resigns from the British Secret Service. His license to kill is revoked. He doesn't seem to enjoy being James Bond. For Dalton James Bond, being James Bond is a chore!

And I think this is why License To Kill (and Timothy Dalton as Bond in general) is not so attractive to American audiences. Without that sheer joy in his own awesomeness that James Bond usually displays (and Roger Moore is the best at this), James Bond becomes just another cop. How many movies does Hollywood put out every year with this basic plot of a driven man, often in law enforcement, seeking a serial killer, or avenging his partner's death? We have plenty of other outlets in the cinema for this kind of plot. (And they are usually shorter. License To Kill is two hours, fifteen minutes. As much as I like it, it does go on a bit.)

Dalton is, apparently (according to the little documentary among the extras), something of a James Bond purist, who tries to honor Ian Fleming's original conception for James Bond (or it might be more accurate to say he tries to honor Timothy Dalton's conception of Ian Fleming's original conception of James Bond). He talks about making the films more "realistic" and striving for "realism." Which I find kind of silly considering the movie I just saw. For example, in the opener, Leiter and Bond are wearing their tuxedoes as they chase after Sanchez and his minions in a jeep. Then they chase Sanchez (who is now flying away in a small plane) in a DEA helicopter, and Bond, still wearing a tuxedo, dangles from the helicopter and wraps a chain arouns the tail of the small plane so the DEA can tow him to an airfield and take custody. But before doing that, they fly over the chapel where the wedding is, and Felix and Bond parachute into the procession.

Yes, very "realistic," Timothy. Fascinating imagery, yes, and I liked this sequence, but to hear Dalton justify his humorless portrayal of Bond by citing "realism" sets off my dissonance detector.

And then there's the conclusion, where several tanker trucks transporting oil (which has cocaine or heroin or something dissolved in it to get it past customs; don't ask, just don't) are traveling on a severely winding road in the mountains, and Bond is jumping from jeep to truck to airplane and back as Sanchez and his men are shooting at him. In one sequence, Bond is driving one of the trucks and he drives it TILTED ON ONE SIDE to avoid the Stinger missile that has been fired at him. (It passes harmlessly under the truck.) In the same sequence, Bond makes the truck pop a wheelie so the driver's seat can be higher in the air and he avoids the worst of the heat from a fireball.

So, yeah, I'm not real convinced by Dalton's argument. It is true that the action in License To Kill is a lot more restrained than most Bond films, but "realism" it ain't.

The plot: well, heck, looks like I already pretty much discussed the plot. I must add that David Hedison is the best Felix Leiter. (He played Leiter in Live And Let Die.) And I also must add that this movie has a very young Benicio del Toro and Wayne Newton. And Talisa Soto. (And the other girl, Cary Lowell, who helps Bond through the whole film, is also very good.)

And Talisa Soto. (Did I mention Talisa Soto?) What else do you need?

NEXT: Uh, maybe I'll finally get to Thunderball.

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