November Man, The (United States, 2014)

August 29, 2014
A movie review by James Berardinelli
November Man, The Poster

The November Man feels like just about every B-grade spy thriller that has ever been committed to the silver screen. With a slipshod narrative that could be mistaken for diluted Ludlum, Deighton, or Le Carre, The November Man provides us with an operative who comes in out of the cold and ends up wading through conspiracies on his way to unmasking the unsurprising mastermind of the setup. The screenplay, credited to Michael Finch & Karl Gajdusek and based on There Are No Spies by Bill Granger, dials up every spy cliché imaginable and tosses them in the blender with shoot-outs, fight scenes, and chases.

To the extent that there's a reason to see The November Man, it's Pierce Brosnan. In his post-007 career, the actor has been struggling to find a niche; here, Brosnan provides us with a version of what his Bond might have looked like after retirement. This isn't the first time an actor has done this. Sean Connery returned to play older versions of his most famous personality - once as Ian Fleming's agent in Never Say Never Again and later as someone similar in The Rock. In The November Man, Brosnan goes by the name of Peter Devereaux and his employer is the CIA but when he whips out the gun and starts shooting, we almost expect to hear strains of the Monty Norman theme on the soundtrack.

The movie opens with a prologue set in 2008. Veteran spy Devereux is in charge of teaching his hot-headed pupil, David Mason (Luke Bracey), the tricks of the trade. During a mission, Mason makes a mistake and, because he disobeys a director order, a child is killed. Disillusioned and unable to shake the image of the dead boy, Deveraux opts for retirement. He vanishes into the fading sunset where he can play the role of a single parent. Meanwhile, Mason becomes a top agent, effectively filling Devereaux's vacated position.

The main body of the story jumps forward by five years. Deveraux is pulled back into action by an old handler, Hanley (Bill Smitrovich), to protect a Russian informant who has valuable intel about soon-to-be-Russian President Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski). Things don't go to well for Devereaux, probably because there's a conspiracy afoot with a mole in the CIA (as is always the case in movies like this), and the informant (who coincidentally is the mother of Deveraux's child) is shot dead. Devereaux absorbs the blame for this debacle and the CIA puts out a hit on him. Now with a personal score to settle, Deveraux begins sifting through Federov's past. He finds Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko), a social worker who once helped the underage sex slave Federov was linked to. Meanwhile, as Deveraux gets closer to unraveling the conspiracy, Mason is dispatched to eliminate his former mentor.

The problem with The November Man isn't in the way it's shot. Director Roger Donaldson (who previously worked with Brosnan in Dante's Peak and also helmed The Bank Job and Thirteen Days) choreographs his action scenes in a clear, concise manner. Admittedly, it gets ridiculous how much punishment the characters can take and still remain standing, but maybe this is an alternate universe where everyone has titanium skeletons. Unfortunately, there's more to this sort of movie than workmanlike fight scenes and that's where The November Man collapses. The plotting is sketchy at best. The characters are not well-defined. The expected romance between Devereaux and Alice isn't given sufficient time or space to blossom. In short, The November Man comes across more like an incomplete outline of a generic spy movie than something fully fleshed-out.

Brosnan's presence is commanding and he is surrounded by a group of capable character actors but there's little any of them can do with the material. There's nothing terribly wrong with The November Man in a serviceable late-night cable TV sort of way but neither is there anything terribly right about it. It's unnecessary and derivative.

November Man, The (United States, 2014)

Run Time: 1:48
U.S. Release Date: 2014-08-27
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1