Monday, 30 April 2012

Licence To Kill: Breaking The Rules

Licence To Kill made me break the law.

With its 15 Certificate and me a callow youth of just 12 years old, I wasn't allowed to see it legally.

And yet, with pester power reaching new heights, I forced my parents take me to The Regent Cinema in Wantage on its opening day.

Was it worth breaking the law for? Absolutely. It was Bond gone rogue, Bond gone badass, Bond gone slightly off the rails. But it was Bond.

So here's what stuck out for me on my most recent viewing...

(I have to acknowledge here my friends Helen and Chris who I made watch LTK with me on Saturday afternoon. They professed to have nothing better to do - a lie for which I thank them)

1. Sanchez is basically Simon Cowell

Power-hungry and showy with high-waisted trousers, Simon Cowell must have taken inspiration from "Isthmus-ian" (?) drug lord Franz Sanchez.

Sanchez prowls around that big white house of his, wearing dodgy pastel colours, and offering Bond cream and sugar in a supremely menacing way.

Robert Davi is a bit terrifying as Sanchez and gives a strong, subtle performance. He's calm most of the time, even when whipping his girlfriend, but loses it brilliantly when his empire is in flames.

He is, though, for someone so apparently clever, an idiot. He falls so easily for Bond's suggestion that he is being betrayed by one of his own. He claims to value loyalty, and yet believes the word of a total stranger.

Sanchez is well-crafted, deliciously evil, and stands way above your Strombergs and Zorins in the ranks of Bond film villains.

2. Carey Lowell is hotter than Talisa Soto

This is something I have argued with my friend Helen about for years - and I'm still right.

She would argue that I prefer Pam Bouvier (Lowell) because of her mannish hair which isn't (entirely) true. Pam has more about her, more intrigue, and looks better in night attire than Lupe (Soto), especially the cocktail dress with the detachable bottom.

I'm not saying that Lupe is a munter - that red dress in the casino is pretty snazzy (although not 'supportive' enough) - but Pam outclasses her all the way.

And my favourite Pam moment is when she downs Bond's vodka martini in one massive unladylike gulp before pulling a face of pure disgust (and if you've tried one in real life, you know how she felt).

"I'm here all week. Try the veal..."

3. It stands out from the crowd

Rewatching this film, I couldn't help but draw parallels with On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Both shun the gadget-laden, smirking template started in the 60s and which blossomed in the 70s and 80s under Roger Moore.

Both show Bond getting hurt, both show him to have a raw emotional core that motivates him to chase down the villain, and both feature some of the best chase sequences in the series.

What we're left with is a more complex Bond who's not just doing what M tells him to do.

His revenge unveils a different - and welcome - side to the character.

4. Timothy Dalton's hair should be revoked

Four words, Timothy: short back and sides.

I suppose Bond's dishevelled look is in keeping with his wayward quest for revenge, but even when he tarts himself up for the casino, he can only manage a slicked-back creation reminiscent of a resting porcupine that's so high you wonder how he doesn't have to duck under doorways.

In The Living Daylights his hair was unmemorable. Here's it's just plain distracting.

Bon Appetit!

5. The men's outfits are (mostly) woeful

Where did Dario get those fetching bolero jackets? Who cares, they're awful.

As mentioned above, Sanchez's waist line creeps dangerously near nipple level, as does Professor Joe's, but Bond still rocks the tuxedo, and looks even better in it the day after when just wearing the shirt and trousers.

Oh, and Milton Krest looks like a refugee from Howards' Way.

6. The goodies barely show up

Bond's allies are in short supply in LTK, and the actors playing Sharky and Felix Leiter turn in reasonable performances, although I'm a bit baffled why they asked David Hedison to play Leiter for a second time after a gap of 16 years.

The less said about Miss Moneypenny in this film, the better. Caroline Bliss's simpering performance is anything but bliss.

But Q is a scene-stealer and it's great to see him released from his brutalist bunker

It's a very fitting tribute when Bond says "You're one hell of a field operative, Q".

7. The soundtrack is a corker

Given the film's location, Michael Kamen's stringy latin-influenced score seems to be well-pitched.

The final song, If You Asked Me To, is from the Diane Warren stable of power ballads and I'm not sure it sits entirely comfortably with the rest of the film, despite referencing the 'why don't you ask me' theme of Bond and Pam's banter.

Gladys Knight's theme tune is a ruddy belter and I can remember exactly where I was when I heard it for the first time.

I was sat in the car one Friday night in the supermarket car park while my parents were inside shopping. It was on one of those round table programmes (on Radio 1 probably).

I marched down to Woolworths the next day, and subsequent Saturdays, to see if it was in.

Even now, I remember that 'him again' look in the shop assistant's eyes. But buy it I did, and listened to it REPEATEDLY for about four weeks.

Still sounds great.

8. Action sequences? Trucking brilliant

The pre-credits plane-fishing sequence kicks off the whole show neatly enough, although I hate that Della on the ground can see that her fiance Felix is waving to her from a helicopter which, from the wide shots, seems to be flying at 16,000 feet. That's quite bollocky.

I love, love, love the water-skiing behind the sea plane by harpooning the hull. Very Bond.

But the honours fall to the truck chase sequence at the end. Watching it the other day, I found myself thinking 'here we go' when it all started and genuinely looked forward to it.

It's a properly original idea to have a shit-load of tankers chase each other. Bond is all over the shop: jumping on them, climbing under them, leaping from one to another and, occasionally, driving them.

Yes, I know the various wheelies are stupid, but not stupid enough to detract from the overall effect.

(One question remains: how did that Stinger missile move around a corner to explode the crashed truck?)

9. The baddies steal the show

Sanchez's main assorted group of baddies are a real treat in this film, from the silent Braun, to the bookish number-cruncher Truman Lodge, to the flashy sort-of-televangelist Professor Joe.

Milton Krest is a drunken dick and I was very very happy when he met his fate in that pressure chamber.

The role of El Presidente Lopez is phoned in by Pedro Armendariz Jr although I suspect a dodgy reception.

Dario is criminally underused, but for plot purposes he needs to stay out of Bond's way till the end in case Dario recognises him.

And, finally, there's Killifer. Who looks like he has a very tired gerbil perched on his head.

The Beverley Sisters throw their hat into the ring to sing the title song

10. Violence, what violence?

I remember the big fuss about LTK being the first Bond film with a 15 Certificate and critics complaining about the violence and bad language, but I would argue that it's just a sign that Bond films were growing up and shaking off the cosy Moore era.

Yes, Roger Moore would never tell anyone to 'piss off' like Dalton does, but that's what makes Dalton Dalton. He's tougher, and - I suspect - not a million miles away from a 'fuck off' if pushed.

The violence against Della and Felix at the start has to be extreme to give Bond his motivation for revenge. 

The whipping of Lupe by Sanchez paints clearly for the audience exactly what the nature of their relationship is.

What's more interesting to me is the question of whether the producers felt that there had to be more violence in it, as they were competing with the other big hits of the time like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. I would be genuinely interested to find this out.

11. The happy couple make me unhappy

How can Della not know that Bond had been married?!

Surely it would have come up in conversation at least once.

Maybe Felix tells her nothing and, in which case, it's a mercy they didn't stay married for longer than 2 hours.

12. The "laughter"

When Bond laughs at his own line about being a 'problem eliminator' in Sanchez's office, part of me wants to die.

13. Senor Montolongo's Assistant

Watch the scene where Bond makes his deposit, and watch her gurn.

It'll turn your milk into butter.

14. The winking fish

The John Glen era was punctuated with infantile jokes (California Girls, anyone?) and the winking fish at the end of the movie is a shockingly bad example of this.

What does it mean? Is it supposed to draw a veil on what Bond and Pam are about to do? It's the end of a frigging Bond film, of course they're going to do it every which way till the sun comes up.

And it's the last shot of the film. Poor. Oh, so poor.

So, in summary, Licence To Kill is one of my favourite Bond films; one that is distinctive, distinguished and edgy.

Very often maligned as a freak entry in the Bond series, I think it's actually one of the strongest exactly because it didn't follow the rules.

And it only leaves me wondering what a third Dalton film would have been like...(sigh)

1 comment:

  1. How did that Stinger missile move around a corner to explode the crashed truck?

    I'm glad I wasn't the only person that noticed that!