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Licence to Kill

April 20, 2013

Licence to Kill (1989)
Director: John Glen
Actors: Timothy Dalton, Robert Davi, Carey Lowell

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Synopsis: James Bond (Timothy Dalton) is in Florida, acting as Best Man at the wedding of his CIA friend, Felix Leiter. Bond helps Leiter apprehend a Latino drug-lord, Frank Sanchez (Robert Davi), but Sanchez escapes custody and kills Leiter’s wife and gruesomely wounds Leiter. Bond stops at nothing – even revoking his MI6 responsibilities – to seek revenge for Leiter.

Review: Licence to Kill is one of the most underappreciated members of the Bond family. Its semi-vigilante theme and the darker criminal subject matter seem to have wrong-footed audiences a touch, and, perhaps due to the six year series hiatus after this production (and because Timothy Dalton was subsequently dispensed with), the film’s reputation has been unfairly maligned ever since.

In many ways Licence to Kill is the polar opposite of Dalton’s other 007 film, The Living Daylights. The Living Daylights had an ingenious, multi-faceted plot, but suffered from terrible execution – particularly with two very weakly conceived villains and a mediocre Bond girl. With Licence to Kill however – though I’m a bit agnostic about the Felix Leiter plot driver which forces Bond to go incognito and the fictional ‘banana republic’ state – it’s actually an extremely well-acted film, it features one of the best villains of the whole series, and could almost have passed as a more conventional Hollywood crime thriller. But perhaps therein lies the problem: it lacks a bit of that Bond magic. Perhaps not the cruder, formulaic elements of other Bond films, but the lightness of touch and inherent charm in the character of Bond himself. I like Dalton as an actor – he’s got a great classical pedigree – but I never really bought him as Bond. I don’t know if it’s a certain frisson that he projects – the thin-lipped mouth, the clipped vowels, the way he slightly ill-fits a tux – but I always thought Dalton would make a better villain, perhaps from the Sean Bean school of rogue agent in GoldenEye. (April 2013)

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