22 November 2006 | gavsalkeld
A criminally underrated Bond picture
Licence To Kill is one of the most underrated Bond movies since On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Slipping easily back into 007's shoes with style after his previous role as Bond, Timothy Dalton embodies the character. With a break away from the comic-book villains and fantastical locations, the filmmakers decide to focus instead on a very adult and contemporary story about drug smuggling and revenge. Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum's story is engaging and exciting, with a steadfast confidence in their leading man. This is a Bond movie that took risks -- it was the first 15-rated Bond film in the UK -- and surely deserves kudos for doing so. Make no mistake; this is not a family Bond picture. Its themes require a more mature perspective than its predecessors, and the violence is certainly stronger than anything that had come before. Unfortunately, these factors seem to be what critics of Licence To Kill call 'faults'. But why is change so bad, I ask? Casino Royale is getting major appreciation from critics for its grittiness and its darker edge. So why not Licence To Kill? After all, this is the movie that started the current trend, with Dalton's mature portrayal of Bond paving the way for Pierce Brosnan and, without doubt, Daniel Craig. It always amazes me that people do not give Dalton more respect for what he did with the character. This guy started the ball rolling. And boy did he give it a hard push.
The characters in Licence To Kill are one of it's major plus points. James Bond is the most human we have seen him in 20 years, as Dalton brings a real sense emotional depth to the character; a tortured man full of hurt and pain and vengeance, his determined and stony face almost cracking with the burning hatred that is barely contained inside of him. We also get a strong female lead with Carey Lowell, whose portrayal of Pam Bouvier is at once intelligent, sexy, and funny. On the flip side of the coin, we have a genuinely terrifying villain in the shape of Robert Davi, playing his role deadly straight with not a hint of camp. It's a rare scenario where you feel Bond has met someone of equal competence. The Sanchez character is a frightening presence, and an early role from Benicio Del Toro is just as effective; his chilling grin a fear-inducing sight.
Technically speaking, John Glen's direction is taught and assured, with the pace never really letting up for the 130+ minutes running time, save at the very end of the movie where the spectacular truck chase sequence perhaps drags just a little. The brilliant Michael Kamen also supplies us with an elegant, sensual and brooding score that is a vital player unto itself, complimenting the visuals excellently.
In spite of these pluses, there are some minor quibbles. As I said before, the truck finale is perhaps a bit long, even though the stunt work is amazing, but it does slow the pace a bit. Talisa Soto is indeed beautiful as Sanchez' girlfriend but, bless her, she isn't exactly the most talented actress on the planet. She plays her part well enough, but the role isn't exactly Oscar-worthy, and it's not helped by the fact that the script tends to relegate her to the sidelines. Everett McGill's cigar-chomping Killifer is rather too pantomime for me - he just doesn't stand up to the characters of Sanchez or Anthony Zerbe's Krest but he doesn't stick around long so doesn't get in the way too much.
With a striking leading man in Bond's shoes, Licence To Kill deserves a lot more credit than it gets. This is the film that broke the mould, opening the doors to a more adult, violent Bond world that continued briefly with some of the Brosnan films and certainly with Daniel Craig's portrayal of the character. In Timothy Dalton we have a brilliant actor in the starring role who brought us a more human and believable Bond, yet it is Daniel Craig who is currently getting the credit for these exact traits. Don't get me wrong, his characterisation is superb. But Dalton is the one who started it off, and it is a shame that he only made the two films.
John Glen says that from all of the Bond movies that he directed, Licence To Kill is the one he is most proud of. And rightly so. Not only do we get a more fleshed-out character in Bond than previous outings, we get a more believable and mature storyline, with great characters and competent direction. Definitely one of the most underrated Bond movies, this engaging film is a great piece of entertainment, and one that I hope will gather praise with time. See it.