The Film: Licence To Kill (1989)
The Principals: Director: John Glen, Timothy Dalton, Robert Davi, Carey Lowell, Talisa Soto, Benecio Del Toro, Anthony Zerbe, Everett McGill , Frank McRae, Wayne Newton, Desmond Llewellyn, David Hedison, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Don Stroud, Priscilla Barnes, Caroline Bliss.
The Premise: When his friend, CIA Agent Felix Leiter (Hedison) is maimed and Leiter’s new wife, Della, is murdered on their wedding day by drug lord, Franz Sanchez (Davi) , James Bond (Dalton) intends to avenge them. But when MI6 refuses to grant him leave and forbids him from getting personally involved, Bond resigns fro the Service and his license to kill is revoked. Bond becomes a rogue agent and after dealing with Killifer, one of Leiter’s colleagues who betrayed him, he interrupts a drug shipment and absconds with millions in Sanchez’ drug money. Later, with one of Leiter’s CIA contacts, pilot Pam Bouvier (Lowell) as his paid associate, 007 heads down to the Republic of Isthmus under the partially-real guise of a rogue agent looking for employment. Bond insinuates himself into Sanchez’ circle, and sows seeds of betrayal in Sanchez’ associates, in order to get close enough to try to kill him. His obsession culminates in a showdown involving millions in drugs hidden in several large tanker trucks.
Is It Good: Yeah, it’s great. Despite the fact that this was the lowest-grossing Bond film in history, that can’t be put on Dalton nor the film, but rather the times. Marketing issues, a darker tone, a non-traditional Bond story, pending legal wrangling, budget concerns, changing locations from China to Mexico, and a WGA writers’ strike all contributed to this. But Bond purists will say that Dalton’s rogue turn and especially his darker nature is quintessential Bond, something that had been bled away by Roger Moore’s more comedic take on the character over the years. I lament that Dalton didn’t get at least two more turns as 007 as he should have. But it’s no wonder that he chose to leave the role when a couple of years in between installments turned into six due to the legal tussling.
The story is solid: Bond out on a mission for revenge after his pal Leiter literally goes swimming (rather dangling) with sharks. Dalton was never afforded the opportunity to give a truly traditional take on Bond. Here he was rogue, and in The Living Daylights, he was neutered by the height of the AIDS / safe sex scare. But as Bond here, he’s great. He pulls off the obsessed rogue agent well, something that would have been unimaginable with Moore. It’s sort of quaint now that this was the first PG-13-rated Bond, when we’ve since seen Daniel Craig take the character toward the R-zone in his own darker take on him.
I tend to put Davi’s turn as Sanchez as Agent Johnson gone way bad. But I also liked it: “What did he promise you? His heart? Give her his heart.” And “What about the money, patron?” “Launder it.” Fun, bit of scene chewing in places. As for Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto, well, neither of them were the best Bond Girls, especially Soto I’m sorry to say. Lowell made out better here, though. Benecio Del Toro (jeez was he ever that skinny) is a nice piece of shit henchman, Dario, and good to see Cary-Hiroyuki Tagama and especially Everett McGill put in work. “Sorry, ol’ buddy, but two mil’s a helluva chunk o’ dough.” And Wayne Newton. Loved him, bless his heart.
Getting back to the story, it was also rather slick when you think about it. Yes Bond was rogue and obsessed, but this wasn’t some fuck-everything, Death Wish kind of revenge yarn. Bond utilized his training and current situation into an alias (as himself ironically) and worked Sanchez’ own men and resources against him in order to get into a position to take him out. I’m no Shakespeare expert by any stretch, but his tactic was a little Iago-like, working on the main man’s character flaws from within his inner circle. It was also nice to see Q get a little more love other than the drive-by appearances he usually made in the films. It was good to see Desmond Llewellyn get tossed a bone in this film. I also love the action, particularly the tanker chase in the third act. Some really great stunts, especially the stunt driver actually taking that tanker up on it’s side like that. It was cool with the Mach 1 in Diamonds Are Forever. It was awesome with a semi.
Is It Worth A Look: Si, patron.
Random Anecdotes: Licence To Kill was adapted into a 44-page graphic novel drawn by Mike Grell in 1989.
Cinematic Soulmates: The Living Daylights, Quantum of Solace.