Film Review: The November Man

by Chad Liffmann on August 27, 2014

Bond he is not. Bourne he is not. Hunt he is not. Ladies and Gentlemen, The November Man!

Keeping cool when the heat is on.

Keeping cool when the heat is on.

Pierce Brosnan attempts a return to the spy game in Roger Donaldson’s spy thriller, The November Man.  The film is based on the novel There Are No Spies by Bill Granger.  And, wouldn’t you know it, the spies in this film don’t resemble spies at all.  They run through public streets with guns blazing, have no issues killing off members of any agency (even their own), and are incredibly oblivious to the most blatant clues and plot twists right in front of them.  This is also the first action spy film I’ve ever seen that has no police presence.  No matter how destructive and time consuming the shootouts and chases, there are no basic security or police squad personnel to be seen.  Not even a siren!  Maybe I just missed it and need to rewatch it to notice (I’m not going to rewatch it).  Ultimately, The November Man is a scattered mess, trying to tackle too many plot lines whilst relying on nearly every spy film cliché to move the story forward. If it weren’t for Brosnan’s charisma, The November Man would be a complete dud.

Brosnan plays Peter Devereaux, code named ‘The November Man’, an ex-CIA agent who gets pulled back into action.  When the mission he’s on goes awry and a parallelling spy assignment is uncovered, a former spy protégé of Devereaux’, Mason (Luke Bracey), is tasked with tracking down and terminating ‘The November Man’ while the latter tries to protect a social worker, Alice (Olga Kurylenko), with a secret past.  With character pasts getting muddled and allegiances getting fuzzy (and secrets being revealed about the cause of the second Chechen War), who can Devereaux trust!?  The answer is: Everyone you think he can trust.

It’s remotely satisfying to see Brosnan take James Bond-like shape again.  Yes, at age 61, he still looks pretty damn good firing a weapon but his character is underwritten and lacks the emotional and physical wear and tear of Bond.  Director Roger Donaldson has a long list of entertainingly mediocre action and drama titles, including The Bounty, Cocktail, Species, Dante’s Peak (which starred Brosnan) and The Recruit.  He’s proven over a few decades of work that he’s capable of handling tense action sequences and dramatic themes, but the stories have been consistently sub-par.  

In the case of The November Man, the script just relies too heavily on surface level dialogue combined with obvious plot turns. It’s arguable that with the success of films like Taken, it’s not too farfetched to believe that any actioner with a simple plot and campy dialogue can be highly entertaining and popular, and even have its cinematic merits.  But few older actors can command action lead roles like Liam Neeson, and The November Man doesn’t have the smarts of a Bourne franchise or the campy premise factor of a Taken series. The film is stuck in turbo-charged mediocrity.  It’s neither better nor worse than the average hour episode of an action drama on cable television. And, while Brosnan may not actually be too far behind Neeson in terms of a career resurrection– he’s got the charm and the potential for brutishness…and the accent — a November Man franchise (a sequel has already been announced) won’t be his presumed ticket back into the action genre spotlight. 

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The November Man opens in Bay Area theaters today, August 27th.

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