This thread has inspired me to go back and watch LTK. I’ve always been fond of LTK and had these feelings reignited upon viewing the film again. It was by far the most experimental and feral Bond movie of them all and the risk really pays off in my opinion. However, while LTK is a great movie, is it a great Bond movie? Well I hope to answer that.
Firstly the pre-titles are a fun and breezy affair. I’ve always thought that the openings of Bond movie are best treated as mini-movies and LTK maintains this mantra. There is a villain, a damsel in distress and of course our hero. The central gag that Bond has to get Leiter to the wedding on time whilst also apprehending the baddie is a great and fun way for the movie to start. It also serves to really set up a great villain in Franz Sanchez; we learn that this man is essential ‘untouchable’ and that he happily will face the risk of running into the authorities to get his girl back. The title song is also an old favourite of mine.
So now into the main body of the film itself: LTK is very much a left-field Bond film. In the opening we meet Bond on something of an excursion, he isn’t on home turf and the character is immediately placed out of his comfort zone and throughout the whole film it seems that a deliberate decision has been made to keep things that way. The ‘unbeatable’ Bond formula is really nowhere to be seen. The beats of a Bond movie are usually very easy to see coming: Bond flirts with Moneypenny, get’s a mission from M, and usually unless he gets romantically attached to a female on his mission (as he usually does) he stays emotionally detached from the events. Well LTK ditches these story beats and in exchange presents a far less familiar path. This was one of the elements I really loved; it really felt like a Bond movie without the rules of a ‘Bond movie’. The narrative takes this great twist early on with Leiter’s attack and the safety net offered by the Bond formula is done away with and in turn a great degree of unpredictability is bestowed on the film early on – as you never quite know what will happen next. When he meets M and has his licence to kill stripped from him immediately to the story darts off into unknown territory as this is truly Bond as we have never seen him before, most definitely his most feral.
I do miss some of the trappings. I’m a little upset that Bond didn’t get to go to flirt with Moneypenny or go through the double padded doors and get briefed by M but in the most part I’m happy that the film stripped back the trappings and troupes and by doing so ridding the series of pastiche. The Bond movies had descended into cliché-ridden affairs by the mind 80’s, with predictable and lazy plotting, cheesy one-liners with an over-reliance on gadgetry that often flirted with the ridiculous. LTK is a breath of fresh air, while it may not be as immediately identifiable as a ‘Bond film’, the sheer audacity that the producers and John Glen took the risk to be quite so experimental must be commended. When the story does concede and allow some of the classic bond elements in - it does so in style be introducing Desmond Llewellyn into the fold, who real chews up the dialogue. Q's introduction is less a retreat to formula and much more a welcome hug he adds a great air of familiarly and keeps the story moving.
Another reason why the almost subversion of the classic Bond formula really works here is in the central crux behind the Sanchez character. Immediately we are presented with a character who we are told is politically ‘untouchable’, with no one willing to extradite him as he is too well connected in all the countries he hides out in. Bond himself perfectly sums up the affair when talking to the DEA agent when asking if the Americans will go after Sanchez now he’s attacked Leiter, when in reply he hears that there is no means to touch him Bond insists there are “other ways” of getting to him. The movie has to be feral and unpredictable as the circumstances of the story and in particular the dangerousness of the villain forces no other real alternative. Now that is a rather exciting prospect. There is only one way of catching Sanchez and that’s by going rogue. One of the other great elements of the story is the ruthless streak that Sanchez brings out in Bond, there is a passage in Ian Fleming’s ‘Casino Royale’ where Le Chiffre talks to Bond and informs them that the pair are not so different it just so happens that Bond works for the side called ‘good’, he still kills people for a living. The film really focuses on the dark side of Bond showing the man at his most dangerous and the lines between the hero and villain most definitely get blurred in LTK. This is evidenced in the scene where Bond corners Pam on the bed after believing that she has betrayed him, it becomes clear that he has become so obsessed with his own personal vendetta he has forgotten about everything else surrounding him.
One of the great things LTK does is really focus on story and narrative, the beats come thick and fast and the story really doesn’t let off as it propels itself further. The film is dictated by its story and not by its spectacle, when the action comes its wonderful but it’s the story that is most gripping. This is helped as the story itself is very easy and simple to follow, its Bond after revenge - and that’s it, we know about Sanchez’s deal with the Chinese and the plot with the stingers but they are coincidental to Bond’s central narrative thrust. There are also a number of great scenes early on that really ratchet up to the tension like Bond’s raid on the warehouse while Sharky sits in the boat waiting and Bond’s attack on Krest’s ship. The action in the film is also first-rate, I think the finale may just be one of the best action sequences that has ever been committed to film - period.
Timothy Dalton is a dream in this movie, I love his Bond and find it criminal he didn’t get to do another film. He looks deadly (something he proves in the physical scenes in the film) but he really tackles the Bond character from a dramatic perspective filling the man with vulnerability and marring it with a dangerous ruthless side. He really is that good, and thats without even mentioning that twinkle he has in his eyes. He also brings some real pain to the affair – for instance when he finds Della and later when he prepares himself to see Leiter’s maimed body. Dalton’s acting is full of nuance and class and he really sells the character as a human being. Furthermore Robert Davi is on scene-stealing form as Sanchez, he fills the screen with his charismatic presence and for my money is one of the best (if not the best) Bond villain there has been. Sanchez is the dark side of Bond and the scenes the pair share together are some of the best tete-on-tete that have occurred in the franchise’s 50 year history. Furthermore Carey Lowell has a great character to play in a former-CIA-agent-now-turned-informant for the DEA, I liked the whole hardened tomboy angle and she does the role justice. Even Lupe who may be the only character who actually suffers slightly (only really because of her silly ‘I love James so much’ scene) is more than the mere cannon-fodder that many Bond girls have been reduced to in the past and not also forgetting that Talisa Soto is absolutely stunning. David Hedison is also a great avuncular presence in the movie and its great to see him back.
On a technical level, LTK has often had the accusation made against it that it feels like a made-for-TV movie, well I found watching the film on blu-ray relieved this issue as the picture and the film have never looked more filmic or better. I also really liked Michael Kamen’s score and the rather unabashed (now rather retro) 80’s feel of the entire film; from the baggy tucked-in shirts to the gaudy production design of Sanchez’s villa (everything you want from a Columbian drug dealer). As far as things that didn’t work – I can’t really think of too many, a lot has been said about Wayne Newton – but I generally found the film moved too quickly for him to really linger in the memory for too long; however the film’s ending is rather poor. By ending I mean literally the last two minutes of the movie – Bond at a party? Really? I’ve got a soft spot for that winking fish mind you. Bond movies really have never done the last few minutes all that well ever and its only now with Daniel Craig have the last 120 seconds of the films become really memorable. What does save it though is the way that Dalton puts the phone down after Leiter and him finish talking – maybe sensing the shared pain the pair have over the deaths of their wives. But the final moments could have been more hard-hitting and do let the film down ever so slightly, but the faults of the film hardly sink the ship.
So in summary while this may not be the Bond your father may have known, it’s a gritty feral outing that ditches the espigone and in its place delivers a cold hard-boiled revenge drama that pushes the character into new and interesting terrain with the very capable Timtohy Dalton steering the ship.
I'm not too clued up on my Fleming, but I know that on at least one occasion Bond vommited in the novels following a particularly brutal execution. In a recent GQ article I read and in P&W's Empire podcast there was chatter that this element was adopted in LTK after Bond kills Sanchez. I really can't recall its happening. However brief it may have been, do we know if it's true?