Tuesday, 3 April 2012

BlogalongaBond #16 - Licence To Kill (1989)

(Here is a link to a revised version of my IMDb review of Licence To Kill, May 2003)

It starts with a wedding. Which is, of course, exactly how On Her Majesty's Secret Service ends. One might also note that Licence To Kill has Bond doing what he failed to do with a resignation note in OHMSS - go his own way.

Both films have a focus of James Bond undertaking something outside the jurisdiction of the Firm (to use John le Carré's favourite term for the Secret Service). Consequently, the drama of the film focuses on Bond himself. The risks he's taking aren't duty, they're personal. This suits Dalton's intense playing of the role rather well; where Roger Moore's fluency with humour was a way of holding duty in relief of drama, so Dalton's more direct approach resonates with the strong personal ties he build through work and the intolerance of that work's disdain for them.

We have then a single-minded Bond. Licence To Kill is not the sobriquet proffered by Bond's 007 status but rather refers to his own self-tasking: simple, purposeless revenge. Other operatives become collateral in this tunnel-visioned pursuit. It is unsurprising that the film concludes without the usual, ill-fated official reception but rather some tawdry-looking party. It's one of the thinnest endings in all the Bond films, as the ensemble gather about 007 and his self-dictated achievement, rather than about the Firm in spite of whose pomposity he has triumphed. If it does nothing else, Licence To Kill confirms that the appeal of the British spy genre is in the volatile patrician relationship between those at the heart of the establishment.

So, Licence To Kill is a film full of strong personal relationships. On this occasion they're outside the Firm: Bond is best man to Leiter and Leiter's wife is clearly in love with Bond as much as with her husband; Q plays his largest role as a locum Uncle, named as such, by moving out of the lab and into the field; and Sanchez's immortal line (repeated by Bond as a trope) concerns valuing loyalty over money. In this world where Bond has taken leave of his country's protection and Sanchez is without native soil then loyalty means personal rather than abstract ties, loyalty to people not flags.

Which is where we run into the issue of Carey Lowell. I do not know how Carey Lowell was meant to fit into this film. It's almost certainly because she is a fine looking woman and certainly Dalton's Bond can't keep his hands off her, shepherding her around a ship and into a plane by her bottom.

I think that Lowell is poorly directed by Glen. She seems quite at home in the overt B movie that is this off-piste-Bond but she doesn't really know how to deal with Dalton's Bond, specifically with her relationship with him. There are lots of disappointed looks and slouched leave-takings as, for the umpteenth time, he tells her to leave as he goes on. There is no substance to this disappointment. It's as if she's simply a bit sulky at being denied a goody bag.

Consequently I can't believe that the two really form a relationship. Bond lusts after her body but has little respect for the woman (Pam Bouvier is meant to have some sort of professional parity with Bond, certainly to begin with). In behaving like the disappointed puppy, Lowell ends up looking like a doormat - not the sort of woman that Bond would be at all interested in. It's as if Glen has bought into Bond's line, delivered in Isthmus: 'This is South America - it's a man's world.' Pam gets patronised into the corner of most of her scenes, only shining out of them by virtue of titillating gestures in body or clothing. At least Talisa Soto has the self-respect to disdain the men - though even she submits to a whipping without even a look of fear, let alone resistance. As for Dalton, well there's nowhere left to go. As The Tourist amply demonstrated.

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