The November Man is a so-so post-007 gig for Pierce Brosnan
A post-007 Pierce Brosnan starring as a highly trained special agent trying to outwit his former protégé should have signaled the start of a new Jack Ryan, Jason Bourne-esque franchise. For the first half, The November Man lives up to expectations of its premise with some exciting back and forth spy one-upmanship, but a flat second half derails the momentum.
Where other films in the genre shift to a higher level as the stakes raise, The November Man only has one gear and fails to take the thrills up another notch resulting in a disappointing entry in the spy category.
Brosnan plays Peter Devereaux, an ex-CIA agent called in by his former supervisor, Hanley (Bill Smitrovich), to track down a woman who was the victim of sex crimes by Russian president candidate Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski). Devereaux’s mission puts him at odds with his former pupil, Mason, (Luke Bracey, G.I. Joe: Retaliation) who’s now risen to top operative status in Devereaux’s absence.
Their complicated past gets further strained after Mason interferes in Devereaux’s mission forcing all parties — including Federov’s main assassin Alexa (Amila Terzimehic) — to track down Alice (Olga Kurylenko, Quantum of Solace), a social worker with ties to the missing woman.
Rescuing Alice from an assassination attempt and giving Bond fans a unique look at a former James Bond starring with a former Bond Babe, Devereaux tries to stay a step ahead of Mason while he unravels the mystery surrounding Federov. Brosnan is more serious than his playful James Bond as he sneers and chews up scenery with a lot less style, but he makes Devereaux an intriguing wild card since Bracey’s Mason is the more traditional main hero. Kurylenko has a captivating grace, but again she’s asked to play the cliché damsel in distress frantically hiding or running for cover while the grown-up spies play.
Director Roger Donaldson has crafted a nice niche at helming less flashy action thrillers such as The Recruit and The Bank Job. (see here: The Bank Job [Blu-ray] + Digital Copy) The action sequences aren’t as spectacular as a most contemporary spy films coming across far more grounded. In the context of the film, Donaldson’s bare-boned approach works fine. Shooting in Belgrade in Serbia provides a different setting that has some character without being yet another vague, indistinguishable Eastern European country.
Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek, in adapting Bill Granger’s There Are No Spies, (read it here: The November Man or There Are No Spies) fail in doing more with the characters and fleshing them out beyond standard archetypes. Instead of meaningful character development, they devote more time to one big plot twist after another. And with a film that doesn’t feature crazy action scenes, stronger characters are essential. By the midway point though the film devolves to a generic action film with themes you’ve seen countless times already right down to the last second hostage rescue.
It’s a shame as the first half provides enough of a foundation to create a worthwhile entry into the upper echelon of recent spy thrillers, but the uneventful and dull back end makes The November Man feel like too much of a retread unable to make its distinctive voice.
Rating: 5 out of 10