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Licence to Kill
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Timothy Dalton’s second time out as James Bond doubles down on the darkness and violence of his début in the role, while simultaneously attempting to bring back some of the goofier aspects of the 007 series. The results are mixed at best. Dalton’s take on Ian Fleming’s famous spy is far more sober and true to the novels than that of his predecessor Roger Moore. In Dalton’s first Bond picture, The Living Daylights (1987), screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson used the titular Fleming short story to create a terrific, semi-realistic, romantic adventure for their new, edgier Bond. That film had, in Maryam d'Abo, a lone love-interest who showcased Dalton’s warmer side and a variety of perceived and actual villains (Jeroen Krabbé, Joe Don Baker, John Rhys-Davies, Art Malik, and Andreas Wisniewski) who provided the fine actor with a range of character types and acting styles to play against. This time, with almost no Fleming material left to mine, Maibaum and Wilson are left to create a largely original story in which 007 goes rogue to take down a drug lord who orders a hit on Bond’s CIA buddy Felix Leiter during his wedding day.

The story is solid enough. We see Bond cunningly, but recklessly, infiltrate the organization of a sinister Latin narcotics kingpin, Franz Sanchez (an excellent Robert Davi). But along with the many intriguing scenes with Bond and Sanchez, and all the beautifully executed, reality-based stunt sequences, the picture is impaired by bad casting, ham-fisted dialogue, and unnecessarily bloody violence that is out of character for this series. Dalton has no chemistry with either of the female leads: Carey Lowell as ex-Army pilot and CIA informant Pam Bouvier, and Talisa Soto as Sanchez's kept girlfriend Lupe. Likewise, the longstanding friendship between Bond and Felix Leiter, a key ingredient of the story, isn’t served by bringing back David Hedison—who played Leiter in Roger Moore’s 007 début Live and Let Die a full sixteen years earlier. Hedison and Dalton don’t seem to exist in the same cinematic universe. And the cops-vs-drug-dealers narrative, as well as the Miami and Latin-American setting, make this entry in the uniquely British franchise seem like just one of many American action movies of the ‘80s.

NOTE: This would be the last time Dalton played the role, and the six-year gap between this film and the next Bond movie would be the longest laps in the over fifty year history of this series. For more about this film, see its section of my appreciation of the 007 pictures.

Twitter Capsule:
After an impressive début as James Bond, Dalton disappoints in his second 007 film. A solid, straightforward plot and excellent reality-based stunts are marred by uneven casting, a generic setting, and ham-fisted dialogue.



Directed by John Glen
Produced by Michael G. Wilson and Albert R. Broccoli

Written by Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum
Based on James Bond by Ian Fleming

With: Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto, Anthony Zerbe, Frank McRae, David Hedison, Wayne Newton, Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Starke, Everett McGill, Desmond Llewelyn, Pedro Armendáriz Jr., Robert Brown, Priscilla Barnes, Caroline Bliss, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Grand L. Bush, and the voice of Michael G. Wilson

Cinematography: Alec Mills
Editing: John Grover
Music: Michael Kamen

Runtime: 133 min
Release Date: 13 June 1989
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1