The November Man (2014) / Thriller-Action
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence including a sexual assault, language, sexuality/nudity and brief drug use
Running Time: 108 min.
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Olga Kurylenko, Luke Bracey, Bill Smitrovich, Will Patton, Lazar Ristovski, Caterina Scorsone, Amila Terzimehic, Eliza Taylor
Director: Roger Donaldson
Screenplay: Michael Finch, Karl Gajdusek (based on the novel, "There Are No Spies", by Bill Granger
Review published August 27, 2014
Pierce Brosnan (The World's End, The Matador) stars as Peter Devereaux, a former CIA agent who comes out of retirement in Europe to fix a mess that hits him close to home, only to find that the person responsible, David Mason (Bracey, GI Joe: Retaliation), is the agent whom he took under his wing when he was in the game. Eventually, Devereaux finds himself out to protect a witness named Alice Fournier (Kurylenko, Vampire Academy), whose knowledge if being sought in order to locate Mira in order to silence her permanently.
The November Man feels like a film that might have been more of interest to the general public had it come out about a decade earlier, in the middle of the Bourne series, and after Brosnan had finished with his popular run as James Bond. I suppose it should come to no one's surprise that this project had been in the making for over ten years. Even if he's entering his 60s, Brosnan still has what it takes to deliver as an action star, though he does feel like old news, and the thrill is mostly gone in seeing him going through familiar motions.
A somewhat bland supporting cast offers little to make anything but Brosnan interesting, save for a fiery Bill Smitrovich (Ted, Eagle Eye) turn and a scene in which Olga Kurylenko appears to dress up like Velma Kelly from Chicago to begin one of the film's most farfetched of story developments. The "Worst Scene" Award continues into a needless flashback to the sexual assault of a minor (Director Roger Donaldson (The Bank Job, The World's Fastest Indian) actually films this as if we, the audience, are being raped in the first person!), followed by the notion that the perpetrator of the crime did so for two whole years, but doesn't recognize his victim when he meets her later in life.
Although well acted, and gorgeously shot and edited, The November Man suffers from a script that seems too smart in its language to be so confusing in its plot, and so dumb in its resolution and climax. The last half hour smacks of rewrites and reshoots, especially the very last scene, which feels tacked on just to have an ending, even if it is wholly unsatisfying. Roger Donaldson, who worked with Brosnan before in the mediocre volcano flick, Dante's Peak, has the talent to shoot and hold this film together visually, but his hold on the narrative gets away from him, resulting in a displeasing mish-mash of ideas that unravel until the blow-out right before the finish line.
The action is certainly good, favoring real stunts and crashes over CGI, but we're never quite hooked into the characters sufficiently to care what happens to them once they get into harm's way. This ambivalence is exacerbated by the character of Peter Devereaux himself, who remains an enigma throughout. We think he's the good guy because he is being played by Brosnan, but we are never given enough of a handle on who he is and what makes him tick, so all we can do is shrug when he gets in and out of hot water. Again, perhaps because of the persistent tinkering with the script, perhaps his character is ambiguous because the story changed directions on a daily basis during shooting.
If you like escapist espionage thrillers with lots of action, perhaps there's enough quality actors, superb stunt work, and nice location shoots to give The November Man a passable grade, especially because the R-rated action can be quite brutal compared to a James Bond flick. However, trying to follow it for anything more than surface pleasure might be a headache for those who aren't deeply rooted into the genre. If those who worked on this project for ten years are confused on what direction they wanted their movie to take, what chance does the audience have to make sense out of it? If the film were any worse, I'd probably have to mention that it looks like we have out November turkey early this year.
©2014 Vince Leo