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'The November Man' Is Not As Bad As It Seems -- and Not As Good

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Thursday, Aug 28, 2014
Perhaps a tad too overcomplicated, this still satisfies as a slightly less than b-picture level actioner.
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The November Man

Director: Roger Donaldson
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Eliza Taylor, Caterina Scorsone, Bill Smitrovich, Will Patton

(Relativity Media; US theatrical: 27 Aug 2014; 2014)

There was a time, not so long ago, when Pierce Brosnan was an international superstar. Riding high on his preordained crowning as the James Bond (replacing Roger Moore several years after first being offered—and denied—the gig) and living with a string of successful 007 efforts, it looked as if the years of laboring in relative obscurity (outside the Remington Steele TV show, which got him the license to kill consideration in the first place) had finally paid off.


Then, four films in, Brosnan was out, Daniel Craig was hired, and suddenly, Bond was bigger than ever. Indeed, it must smart for the 60-something to see Skyfall become a billion dollar baby, complete with critical acclaim and creative Oscars.
  
Truth be told, Brosnan has been plotting his own spy comeback ever since getting dissed by Cubby Broccoli and the gang. Having stumbled across books by Bill Granger featuring international man of mystery Peter Devereaux, nicknamed “The November Man” (“after he blows through, nothing is left alive”), he was committed to using his newly formed production company, Irish Dreamtime, to create a new franchise.


Back in 2006, he was prepping to make a movie out of the seventh book in the series, There Are No Spies, when the financing fell through. Now, eight years later, The November Man is seeing the light of day. It’s old fashioned espionage antics will be pleasing to some, aggravating to many.


You see, Devereaux is a throwback, the kind of “do as I say, not as I do” secret agent who admonishes underlings for not listening to him while simultaneously partaking of the very behavior he’s berating them over. He sees no problem in jeopardizing a protégé‘s relationship while keeping mum about his own. To him, there are killers and there are non-killers.


The twain cannot meet, and if they do, one typically destroys the other. In fact, when push comes to shove, Devereaux will defy the very constructs he lives/lived by in order to make sure that those who countermand the very same standards pay a price.


This makes the character a crazy walking contradiction, a man of nobility and duty who doesn’t blink at severing a random woman’s femoral artery as a test of a former colleague. It also provides an unnecessary level of distant between the character and the crowd. Directed by Roger Donaldson, who knows his way around a thriller (No Way Out, Thirteen Days), our story centers on political turmoil in Russia.


A high ranking politician named Arkady Fedorov (Lazar Ristovski), poised to become President, has a secret war crimes past he wants wiped off the historical map. He hires a stereotypical dressed-in-black female assassin (Amila Terzimehić) to kill everyone with knowledge of what happened.


Devereaux is dragged out of retirement and back into this mess when someone with whom he had close ties (Mediha Musliovic) offers up some damning info on Fedorov. When that plot misfires, thanks in part to the interference from the CIA and our hero’s ex-partner David Mason (Luke Bracey), it’s time for some payback.


Devereaux tracks the evidence trail to a Serbian social worker (Olga Kurylenko) and the war in Chechnya. What he uncovers not only threatens his position, but the leadership of his boss (Will Patton) and his supervisor (Bill Smitrovich). Of course, once the truth is revealed, Devereaux realizes that nothing was/is as it seemed.


Perhaps a tad too overcomplicated, The November Man still satisfies as a slightly less than b-picture level actioner. Donaldson does his best to spice things up with slow motion and other directorial tricks, but the real appeal of this project is seeing Brosnan back in his suave spy game element.


While the “Americanized” accent is a bit much (he always sounds like he’s doing a dumbed-down Brooklyn-ese), he still carries the gravitas to make much of the espionage gobbledygook fly. Who else could sell us on post-War Russian plan to overthrow the world, while spouting moralizing long past its current political sell-by date?


Unfortunately, the arcane aspects of The November Man don’t end with Brosnan’s bark. There are several female characters in this film, but almost all are ciphers, or worse, disposable plot candy. None of them get any significant screen time, almost all have to suffer under the patriarchal whims of the screenplay, and even when they are positioned as possible threats—as in Terzimehić‘s severe assassin—they often find themselves diminished almost instantaneously.


Indeed, the one thing we learn about car chases and street fights from The November Man is that nothing is more strategically advantageous in any confront than a corner. Almost every action scene ends with one character or another waiting around a wall, ready to deliver a shovel to the head or an elbow to the jaw of their intended victim.


Another big problem is Luke Bracey. He’s supposed to be Brosnan’s equal, a former student who wronged his mentor in a meaningfully ambiguous way. Theirs is a character cat and mouse, a constant testing which the younger fails at over and over again. Brosnan’s character is never really allowed to be vulnerable, however, which means all the lessons are left unlearnt. All Bracey can do then is look stern and sulk, never given a chance to one-up anyone (even at the end, when his loyalty is truly tested).


Since it was recently announced that a sequel to The November Man has already been greenlit. Here’s hoping that Bracey’s character is left out the second time around.


Such foolhardy foresight may seem specious, but The November Man believes, rightfully or wrongfully, that there’s an older demographic just waiting to watch Brosnan be a bad-ass, again. However, Donaldson doesn’t do anything to make the typical moviegoer eager to experience what he has to say. There are no Jason Bourne jarring jump cuts or shaky cams in sight, and our lead’s lasting legacy may be more in the videogame arena than as part of the growing list of Bonds.


Indeed, when all is said and done, Brosnan’s stardom may have been shortlived, but his talent continues to thrive. The November Man is the kind of film that can trade on such abilities, even while having a hard time finding its footing. 


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