Review: The November Man
PLOT: A retired CIA agent (Pierce Brosnan) is lured back into the service by an ex-colleague. When hes set up on a mission, he finds himself pitted against his protégé (Luke Bracey) while attempting to protect a woman (Olga Kurylenko) with knowledge that could topple the next man in line for the Russian presidency.
REVIEW: NOVEMBER MAN was a film I was almost desperate to like. If anyone ever listens to The James Bonding Podcast, youll know that Brosnan in hindsight always takes a beating when discussing former Bonds. That said I have a soft spot for the man as he was the theatrical Bond of my teen years, even though in re-reviewing all the films a couple of years ago I had to acknowledge some of his outings were poor. Yet, even Brosnans harshest critics agree that had he had the material, he could have made an excellent Bond film.
Thus, I hoped NOVEMBER MAN would kind of be his NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN. Brosnans at his best when producing his own films, so here he finally had creative control over his own spy film, and would get to finally do the hard-edged spy flick hed been saying he wanted to do for years. The result? Sadly, NOVEMBER MAN is not the return to superspy form I wanted for him. Based on an entry in a series of books by Bill Granger, NOVEMBER MAN isnt anything you havent seen done time and time again, only much better. Having Brosnans Peter Devereaux go rogue is so old hat, with them clearly aiming for a Bourne-style thriller, with the result being like QUANTUM OF SOLACE without the budget or the panache.
Director Roger Donaldson has done some really good films in the past, but NOVEMBER MAN is too much like his last movie, SEEKING JUSTICE, in that it feels low-rent, and more like something that would go straight-to-VOD or disc rather than hit theaters. The big problem is the plot, and part of the movie feel curiously dated. While the cold war setting of the novel is updated to reflect the fallout of the Second Chechen War, other things feel antiquated, such as the bursts of hard-core misogyny from the villain, which feels cribbed from any eighties action movie. Same goes for Brosnans early profane banter, which seems to be an effort to distance him from Bond, but feels tacked on.
The old spy vs young spy angle barely works, simply due to the fact that the young spy, played by Luke Bracey (of the upcoming POINT BREAK remake) is so bland. Braceys another Aussie hunk in the Jai Courtney mold, but hes just as dull, with it odd that despite his only big credit being the masked Cobra Commander in G.I JOE RETALIATION, he being allowed to essentially carry an action movie. He has no edge whatsoever, and anytime they cut away from Brosnan to give Bracey screen time, one cant help but zone out.
Luckily, Brosnan is in top form. Looking trim, and elegantly dressed in very James Bondian suits (although he never wears a tie or a tux that would be too obvious), he hasnt missed a beat as an action hero. Its mostly low-key fisticuffs and gun fights, but Brosnan looks cool, and gives the character an edge Bond wouldnt be allowed to have, although it goes way too far in a scene where he almost kills a young woman just to make a point (see what I mean about the misogyny?). Thats a tough scene to come back from, even if you are as charming as Brosnan, and truth be told it stops the movie cold, as hes never shown before this to be any kind of sadist, but rather someone youre supposed to root for. It's mind-boggling anyone involved thought this was an effective moment. Rather, it's a disgrace considering this is supposed to be a "fun action flick". Nevertheless, Brosnan performs well otherwise, and could probably still play James Bond should the Broccolis ever decide to give him a one-off in between Daniel Craig Bonds (which Id actually love to see).
Furthering the Bond similarities is former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko has the gal Brosnan has to protect. Since QUANTUM OF SOLACE, Kurylenkos more than proved herself as a serious actress in movies like TO THE WONDER, and while her part is initially thankless, towards the end it gets a little more three-dimensional and her chemistry with Brosnan is strong (although his Devereaux is a lot more chaste than Bond ever was).
Its really too bad NOVEMBER MAN is such a mess, as Brosnan is clearly still up for making a good spy yarn, and he certainly deserves one thats a lot better than this. Its disappointing that his return to action movies feels so disposable. At the very least, this should prove that Brosnan still makes an effective hero. Hopefully the long-gestating sequel to THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR will happen someday. In the meantime, I suggest watching THE MATADOR if you really want to see what Brosnan is capable of.
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