In a genre where smarts and thrills are pivotal, The November Man delivers only routine (and uninspired) spy drama.
The November Man follows retired CIA operative Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan), who is reactivated to assist in the extraction of an undercover agent in Moscow – a woman serving as assistant to war criminal-turned-Russian President, Arkady Fedorov (Lazar Ristovski). After a ruthless military command during the Chechen War, Fedorov became a key asset in global politics and, with the help of his personal gun-for-hire, Alexa (Amila Terzimehic), began silencing (read: murdering) anyone with knowledge of his prior misdeeds.
When Fedorov discovers that his greatest secret is about to be exposed, the CIA is forced to alter their extraction plan – putting Devereaux at odds with his former protege, David Mason (Luke Bracey). Trapped in a web of lies and subterfuge, Devereaux is unsure of who to trust – turning to a local social worker, Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko), in the hopes of tracking down a Chechen refugee with the knowledge to take down Fedorov and his accomplices.
Based on Bill Grange’s November Man novels, The November Man film adaptation is directed by Roger Donaldson (Cocktail, Species, and The Recruit), drawing heavily from the book series’ seventh installment, There Are No Spies. Unfortunately, despite an experienced lead in Pierce Brosnan, The November Man is neither thought-provoking or particularly thrilling – relying on a series of predictable twists and genre cliches to drive the otherwise underwhelming plot. Thanks to a few crowd-pleasing moments and chuckle-worthy one-liners, it’s an innocuous piece of escapism but, in a genre where smarts and thrills are pivotal, The November Man delivers only routine (and uninspired) spy drama.
The core narrative asks to be taken seriously, covering a range of challenging plot points (sexual abuse, war crimes, and more), but outright fails to bring these numerous threads together in a cohesive and contemplative character piece. As a result, nearly every member of the principle cast fits within paper-thin outlines (examples: a disgruntled but respected ex-CIA operative, ruthless Eastern-European contract killer, and cold-hearted CIA regional director) with little or no invention to differentiate them or their actions from prior (and superior) big screen appearances. The same can be said for the larger twists and turns in The November Man narrative – nearly all of which have been presented with greater skill, subtlety, and overall impact in previous tales of espionage and global politics.
Worst of all, in an attempt to explore the grey morality of spy life, Donaldson paints Devereaux with shameful inconsistency – a hero that decries the death of innocents but still kills first/asks questions later and terrorizes bystanders simply to prove a point. Maybe, if audiences had been introduced to the character earlier in his career, Devereaux’s mercurial personality would be interesting, but in the context of this film, the character is a one-dimensional puppet – bending to the disjointed interests of his filmmaker.
Brosnan tries to differentiate Devereaux from his iconic turn as James Bond – injecting a layer of cruel fury that would have been at odds in a 007 installment. Yet, the film doesn’t provide Brosnan with enough realized drama to capitalize on subtle choices – producing a central character that is less interesting and, sadly, less exciting than any of Brosnan’s previous secret agent roles. Additionally, all of the actor’s choreographed encounters are shaky and choppy – pieced together with multiple takes, stand-ins, and punch-by-punch cuts to maintain the illusion that Brosnan is still a credible action hero. Devereaux lands a few memorable hits in The November Man but the film (and its star) come across hopelessly out of date amidst modern spy offerings.
The same can be said for Luke Bracey’s CIA “weapon,” David Mason, who spends most of the film as a painfully undercooked black and white caricature. Considering that Mason is Devereaux’s protege, closest friend, and a primary antagonist, the undercover agent should have been November Man‘s most captivating addition; instead, the character is an empty-headed errand boy – defined by what he says (shouting exposition) not by any subtlety in his actions. At one point, Devereaux describes Mason as a “blunt instrument” and the comparison can easily be extended to describe Bracey’s efforts both on and off screen.
Donaldson also fails to differentiate Olga Kurylenko’s Alice Fournier from stock “Bond Girl” tropes. While Alice is allowed select moments of autonomy and self-preservation, the film routinely casts her as a damsel in need of rescuing – presenting a downright bizarre juxtaposition against The November Man‘s on-the-nose exploration (as well as attempted condemnation) of misogyny and sexual objectification. The supporting cast is equally uninspiring – wavering between adequate but unremarkable turns from recognizable faces like Bill Smitrovich (Agent Hanley), Eliza Taylor (Sarah), Caterina Scorsone (Celia), and Will Patton (Agent Weinstein), as well as newcomer Amila Terzimehic (Alexa).
Like the film’s protagonist, The November Man is a bland and contradictory spy movie that stumbles in its effort to examine the complicated (and morally grey) world of secret agents. The film borrows from a number of familiar plot threads but falls short in carrying any of them to a satisfying or insightful conclusion. By the end, plot lines are abandoned or crammed together for an underwhelming and predictable final act that pales in comparison to its many spy drama inspirations. The film was supposed to establish a November Man movie franchise for Brosnan but, instead, offers little more than cheap genre imitation and a leading man that, like his onscreen character, cannot transcend his prior secret agent persona.
The November Man runs 108 minutes and is Rated R for strong violence including a sexual assault, language, sexuality/nudity and brief drug use. Now playing in theaters.
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