Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


LICENCE TO KILL (1989) Director: John Glen. Written by Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum.

This is perhaps the grittiest and, for lack of a better word, most “realistic” of the Bond films. Bond (Timothy Dalton) is in Florida for the wedding of his old friend Felix Leiter (David Hedison), who nearly misses his wedding to go after his number one target, drug lord Sanchez (Robert Davi, pictured). Sanchez, unfortunately, escapes -- with the aid of a traitorous colleague of Leiter's -- and takes revenge on Leiter by murdering his bride and feeding Leiter to a Great White. [This scene is actually taken from Ian Fleming's novel Live and Let Die. As in the book, Leiter does not die but loses a couple of limbs, and is delivered back home with a note that reads He disagreed with something that ate him.] Bond makes up his mind to take down Sanchez, but both American drug agents and M himself order him to back off. Enraged, Bond resigns and goes AWOL, teaming up with drug agent Pam Bouvier (Cary Lowell), who also has an interest in Sanchez. In Isthmus City in Panama, Bond and Pam are up to their necks in Sanchez' associates, Japanese drug merchants, counter-agents who are out to get Sanchez, and even Q (Desmond Llewelyn), who comes to Isthmus City with gadgets for Bond and plays a larger role than he does in most Bond movies. Although Llewelyn plays Q, M and Miss Moneypenny are essayed by different actors than those in the earlier films.

Licence to Kill is romantic, darkly amusing, and quite exciting for the most part. Dalton plays Bond like a heroic human being and not a Superman. Lowell's character is feisty, independent and liberated; only her jealousy of Bond's “relationship” with Sanchez' girlfriend. Lupe, is stereotypical and silly. Lowell is perfect as Pam, but Talisa Soto betrays very little acting skill as Lupe. Robert Davi is a major Bond villain with equal parts charm and menace, and Benicio Del Toro is slithering, sociopathic, almost sexy prime evil as Sanchez' lead assassin. Anthony Starke scores as Sanchez' fresh-scrubbed Wall Street-type associate, Truman-Lodge, and Wayne Newton is amusing and inspired casting as an evangelist who helps Sanchez distribute his drugs. Don Stroud, Anthony Zerbe, David Hedison, Priscilla Barnes and others also turn in solid performances. The film has superior production design and good photography from Alec Mills. The title song is a snappy one, although not particularly well sung by Gladys Knight. Michael Kamen's score is functional, but doesn't compare with John Barry's romantic music, which may have been considered unsuitable for this grittier approach to 007. Licence to Kill was filmed on location in Mexico and Florida.

Although this is a very good Bond adventure, there are – surprisingly – no particular scenes that one can point to and pronounce a “knock-out.” The film works on a cumulative level. This is not to say that there aren't memorable sequences, such as when Bond takes over the small plane being piloted by drug runners or the ironic death of the traitor at the teeth of the Great White. But some of the scenes are not edited as tightly as they should have been. The climax is marred because they keep cutting away from the main action too often, and the fight to the death between Bond and Sanchez, while clever, is much too brief. Dalton really had a handle on the character – too bad he wasn't allowed to play Bond for a few more films.

Verdict: While flawed, this is a highly satisfying and entertaining 007 outing. ***.

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