The November Man review
Predictable espionage thriller
After laying low from the spy genre following his final performance as 007 in 2002’s Die Another Day, Irish-American actor/ producer Pierce Brosnan returns with a vengeance for this summer’s The November Man in the titular role. Irish DreamTime, Brosnan’s L.A.-based production company, produced Australian director Roger Donaldson’s (Species, Cadillac Man) adaptation of Bill Granger’s novel There Are No Spies—the seventh entry in the November Man succession. While Brosnan’s no-holds-barredperformance as an assassin angrier and shadier than his most famous spy role certainly make for a watchable, interesting movie, the rest simply falls to pieces around him.
Brosnan steps up to the role without fear, bringing everything we love about him (calm, cool, confident) and adding a few more facets that the PG-13 rating had restricted during his time as Bond. Brosnan’s Devereaux isn’t a womanizing quipster like 007, instead reminiscent of a more solitary, lonely cinematic assassin like Leon in Leon: The Professional who likes to taunt his opponent. In fact, the gritty, bloody fight scenes bring Daniel Craig’s Bond to mind first as Brosnan’s was more akin to finesse, style, and gadgetry. On the action front at least, The November Man is Pierce Brosnan’s chance to prove that he can throw a punch with the best of them. Brosnan was the last of the stylish movie assassins and never got to brawl quite like the spies of post-9/11 films following the popularity of the Bourne franchise. Peter Devereaux has a few similarities with Jason Bourne beyond franchise potential.
Donaldson has directed action sequences before and certainly can weave a camera into a car chase as well as any veteran director, but offers little else. The pace and tone of the picture never come out definitively. The film’s only sex scene is nothing if not gratuitous; two minutes of nothing but a cutaway from Brosnan to secondary characters having sex before a jumpcut to a different character. The rape/ sexual assault flashback also comes off gratuitous as blatant hinting turns into unnecessary, bludgeoning camera angles. Less is more, and a little subtlety works better in a spy movie than treating the audience like they can’t get a clue.
Women don’t particularly play much of a role in the film to an insulting degree. The villain even openly admits that a female agent is worthless outside of her chest. The one mysterious, secret agent female meets an early exit. The other women are actress Olga Kurylenko (Hitman, Max Payne) or Russian strippers. Kurylenko’s role isn’t even too challenging for her as it follows the same basic arc as her character from Quantum of Solace, a post-Brosnan 007 entry. Like Camille in QoS, Kurylenko’s Alice witnesses the death of her family at the hands of a mad general, witnesses the general’s political power rise over her formative years, develops a method to exact revenge, finally and insinuates herself into a situation to allow for an assassination of the aforementioned mad general. We’ve seen her in this exact role before. Without giving plot points away, Alice turns from murderously damaged to damsel in distress on a dime. Between the gratuitous sex & nudity and unchallenging female roles (plus all the guns and cars), the male-targeted demographic should serve a surprise to nobody. Becoming a damsel in distress despite having the necessary means at one’s disposal is downright insulting. True, one woman is an assassin- but she has no lines.
Outside of Brosnan, the male roles aren’t impressive either. Newcomer Luke Bracey (G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Monte Carlo) plays a one-note wooden character in need of serious redemption. Unfortunately, this moment is wasted when the moment presents itself onscreen, with Donaldson choosing the worst moment to go subtle. Bracey’s Mason learned everything about the spy game from Devereaux and must now use his education to take down the teacher. The whole teacher/ student dynamic loses favor to flat old man/ young kid zingers. Bill Smitrovich (Ted, Independence Day) and Will Patton (Remember the Titans, The Mothman Prophecies) play a pair of shady, high-ranking C.I.A. officials who share a past with Devereaux.
Despite impressive action sequences comprised of complex gun play or exciting car chases across Europe and a knock-out, statement-making performance from lead Pierce Brosnan, The November Man puts little effort elsewhere. Without even trying to incorporate women in a respective sense, or men either for that matter, The November Man will be largely remembered for its boring gratuity.