PLOT: A former CIA agent (Brosnan) who is nicknamed after a month of the year is rehired for one last bizarre mission.
WHO'S IT FOR? Nothing else to see and like action standards? Maybe you'll like a matinee showing of The November Man.
Pierce Brosnan was a good James Bond. Regardless of what may be said about the films within his stint as the famous secret agent, he wore the uniform well, spoke the lines, and did it with finesse. In a business sense: he was a good employee, but he was not a part of any big movements within the series, aside from starring in an action movie about the news (Tomorrow Never Dies) or that one time he surfed a tsunami (Die Another Day). But for his latest gig, Brosnan's for-hire quality within action movies doesn't bode well, especially in a standard spy movie that could use a productive unique touch.
This second-tier actioner from director Roger Donaldson takes a greedy handful from a collection of spy movie plots, as if trying to cram a minor character’s whole franchise in one film. Brosnan plays Devereaux, a former CIA agent who is hired on the down-low by his ex-peer Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) for a final mission, despite pulling himself out of the game years ago after a job went wrong. However, this career epilogue becomes a bigger deal when his secret wife/mission objective Natalia (Mediha Musliovic) is killed. Devereaux finds out that it’s his old employer the CIA behind the act, and seeks revenge while trying to find out what Natalia knew that the CIA would have wanted her killed for.
Meanwhile, pissed-off Devereaux finds a challenge in his former apprentice Mason (Luke Bracey), who is trying to outsmart his master while following orders from a corrupt boss unknown to us. A third-party assassin is thrown into the mix (Amila Terzimehic), and I haven’t even gotten to the center of this narrative; a Russian presidential candidate named Arkady Fedorov (Lazar Ristovksi) is trying to cover up his evil past as he nears election day. However, a social worker named Alice (Olga Kurylenko) knows of a girl who has information on Fedorov that would destroy his life and certainly his political intent. Devereaux teams up with Alice as they both try to streamline this jumbled craft store section of a story.
Donaldson's film works best for those who view this film without the context of a time post-Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer, or even Liam Neeson's action revival. Having those entities in mind only indicates that Brosnan's idea of pistol grit is late, even if it comes as a hard-bargained change from the slickness we may have associated with. It's a damning flaw to the center push of the story, leaving to be a movie that can better be enjoyed in moments, in sequences. In the not-good way, The November Man rings with the question, "who is this guy?"
The November Man embraces its cliches as a fully-nestled potboiler, an adaptation of the novel “There Are No Spies,” which probably has a dense population in New Hampshire libraries. The problem of Donaldson’s film is its lack of vigor when playing with these genre landmarks, the movie is taped together by moments like a cool guy walking away from an explosion more than it is motivated by it. Similarly, the action within Donaldson’s film can be hit-and-miss; its violence provides a genuine jolt when it’s unexpected, but simpler standoffs and bang-bang sessions are more definitive of plainness. A score from Marco Beltrami provides a crucial element; a slice of violin strings during a character’s cutting is a bloody cherry-on-top, or buzzing timpani to remind the audience a reminder of life/death tension.
Brosnan is too old to be immortal like Bond, and now he is working within a universe that gets its edge from its R-rated civilian casualties, and dark political history. However, The November Man is using some very grave chapters of history for its dark boost, which casts a disconcerting aura over the inclusion of these elements. Donaldson is invested in maintaining an emotional darkness within this spy movie (Kurylenko has a strikingly vulnerable scene as she recollects certain war atrocities), and in one moment Donaldson’s camera even places viewers into the first-person view to involve us in an inhumane act. Does any of this belong within a movie that features Brosnan walking away from an explosion in slow motion? Or would this type of presentation not make it to mainstream audiences otherwise, because no one even saw a spiritually-related movie starring Rachel Weisz called The Whistleblower?
Nonetheless, as a spy flick, The November Man does fine with low expectations. But if this is Brosnan’s attempt of straying and surpassing from Bond, he has not succeeded. With The November Man, Brosnan confirms that his charisma is only as strong as the character he's hired to play.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10