Former 007 Pierce Brosnan makes his return to the spy thriller genre in The November Man, and it’s a solid, engrossing effort. While his physical presence is sure to remind audiences of his stint as Ian Fleming’s superspy during the 1990’s, the film itself is a far cry from the save-the-world-and-get-the-girl formula that characterizes Bond movies. It’s lean, mean, and relies just as much on dramatic tension between the performers as it does with gunplay and fistacuffs.
It’s not perfect by any means — it plays out just a bit too predictably by the end — but it should provide enough thrills and twists to keep casual audiences entertained and fans of the genre content.
Brosnan plays Peter Devereaux, a retired CIA field operative attempting to live quietly in Switzerland, far away from the intrigues and dangers of his old life. He’s reeled back into the fray by Hanley (Bill Smitrovich), his old handler, who needs him to extract a deep-cover operative working within the campaign of Russian presidential hopeful Arkady Federov. A hardened cynic and survivor of too many political intrigues and double-crosses in his career, Devereaux is naturally suspicious of Hanley and his motives for going outside the agency for the task, but he accepts the mission for his own reasons.
Once committed, he finds himself dodging bullets fired by, among others, his old protege and friend David Mason (Australian actor Luke Bracey), whose own CIA-sanctioned mission runs counter to Peter’s. Their cat-and-mouse game eventually puts them both on the trail of Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko, Oblivion, Quantum of Solace), a social worker involved in the treatment and recovery of women who’ve been victims of human trafficking and sexual slavery. Alice, to all appearances, is the key to locating a witness to Federov’s involvement in a decades-old conspiracy that resulted in a regional war that cost tens of thousands of lives. This makes her a target not just of Devereaux and Mason’s, but also of Federov’s own hired assassin, Natalia (Bosnian actress Mediha Musliović), and even CIA power players who see a way to control Federov once he’s in office and prevent knowledge of their own involvement in the conspiracy from getting into the open.
No would-be world dominating masterminds? No doomsday devices? No gadget-laden cars and lectures from elderly engineers about damaging prototype equipment? 007 could probably handle this caper in a single evening with a dinner jacket on and a martini in hand. But the ‘November Man’ as Devereaux is called is a different kind of spy for a different world, the world we live in. Thus his hands get dirty, he’s not invincible, and sometimes when he blows through and the bad guys start dying, the wrong people get hurt, too.
The script for The November Man by screenwriters Michael Finch (Predators) and Karl Gadjusek (Oblivion) adapts and modernizes material originally included in the 1987 novel There Are No Spies, the 7th book in “The November Man” series by the late Bill Granger. Granger’s November Man novels as a whole were successes commercially and well-regarded critically due to his talents for characterization and storytelling, and while there are significant differences between There Are No Spies and Finch and Gadjusek’s screenplay, what the two screenwriters give audiences in the film honors the qualities for which Granger’s stories were beloved: interesting, nuanced characterization and well-crafted tension.
Veteran director Roger Donaldson (Thirteen Days, The Bank Job, No Way Out) in turn takes that script and crafts a visual experience that throws audiences right into the thick of the action, a la Paul Greengrass’s Bourne films, but without all the camera shaking and constantly changing camera angles. The action, brought to life mainly by stunts and practical special effects, is still fast-paced, visceral and gritty, but its not nauseating to watch, and thus his stylistic choice is a very welcome one at a time in cinema where so many directors seem to equate immediacy in action sequence photography with “shaky cam.”
The cast here is solid all around, and in particular newcomer Luke Bracey, a performer whose physicality and screen presence is reminiscent of his Aussie countrymen Chris and Liam Hemsworth, is definitely a star to keep an eye on in years to come. But without a doubt the performer who benefits most from the more character-focused approach to the film is Brosnan. At times during his tenure as Bond, he’d openly asked for more opportunities to actually act in the role, and so it’s easy to see why he might overcome any reluctance he might have had to re-enter the movie spy game in order to play this kind of character, as there’s lots in it for him to sink his teeth into. Devereaux is at different times cold, ruthless, haunted, worn and world-weary, and Brosnan, now in his early sixties, is at all times credible and sympathetic inhabiting such a complex and at times paradoxical character. Is the character and his turn in it memorable enough to make audiences forget that they’re watching a former Bond in action? Not a chance. But he’s different enough to be interesting, and that’s a credit to Brosnan, considering just how big a shadow Bond’s is to escape out from under.
On the negative side, in addition to the aforementioned predictability, it can be argued that the film is cut down too lean, with certain plot elements being left without a proper payoff and certain characters under-utilized. It can also be argued that the film is rather humorless, its tone set primarily by the deadly serious demeanor of its bleak main character. Those are all valid points, and thus The November Man may not appeal to moviegoers who prefer their assassins and secret agents a bit more cheeky and a lot less grim.
But for those who like their spy thrillers to be more grounded and character driven, this should leave you feeling good about the 108 minutes you spent at the theater, and perhaps even echoing this particular sentiment:
Welcome back to the spy game, Mr. Brosnan. You have been missed.
Score: 3 out of 5
The November Man
Starring Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Eliza Taylor, Caterina Scorcone, Bill Smitrovich, and Will Patton. Directed by Roger Donaldson.
Running Time: 108 minutes
Rated R for strong violence including a sexual assault, language, sexuality/nudity and brief drug use.
More Clueless Critic Reviews