‘The November Man’ a Stealthy Late-Summer Spy Thriller

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CHICAGO – “The November Man” is better than its bland title and late August release date would suggest. It’s no gem, but it gets as far as it does almost solely on the strength of Pierce Brosnan’s breezy performance as an ex-CIA agent called back into duty for one last job.

Brosnan has played so many spies over his career he wears the hard-drinking-womanizing-secret-agent character like a second skin, but it’s telling that he manages to still look like he’s having a ball doing it. Here he gently tweaks his own secret agent image, and manages to infuse some of the script’s sub-James Bond one liners with a charm they wouldn’t have otherwise. For example, while interrogating a Russian suspect, he pulls out a revolver, spins the wheel and says “We’re going to play a game, which I believe was developed in your country.”

Pierce Brosnan
Brosnan, Pierce Brosnan: The Title Character in ‘The November Man’
Photo credit: Relativity Media

After a botched mission that ends in the death of a child, Brosnan’s Peter Devereaux quits the spy game and retires to the shores of Switzerland. Then an old CIA crony comes calling with an offer he can’t refuse. He goes back into Moscow – looking suspiciously like Belgrade – to extract a CIA operative who also happens to be a former lover. Meanwhile, a former protégé is assigned to take her out. It doesn’t take long for him to realize he’s landed in a shadowy mess of double crosses and intrigue with a changing roster of players. whose trustworthiness is dubious at best no matter which side they are supposedly on.

The plot involves a Russian General (Lazar Ristovski) who committed atrocities in the Second Chechen War and now wants to wipe his slate clean while making a run for the presidency. The last witness is a young refugee girl who has gone into hiding. It’s up to Devereaux to find her before anyone else does. It’s worth noting that Devereaux is no unambiguous hero. He’s something of a rogue agent who leaves behind a heavy body count and seems to shoot indiscriminately in his quest to find the girl. There’s also a game of cat and mouse involving Devereaux’s former protégé Mason (Luke Bracey), who’s now been assigned to assassinate him. While Devereaux seems to enjoy toying with the youngster – teasing him while staying one step ahead – Mason can’t match his charm or intensity. He’s as bland as the film’s landscapes, and often seems to fade right into them.

As a spy thriller, it moves along at a reasonable clip, but no one with half a brain would mention it in the same breath as a John LeCarre novel. The film introduces characters and then seems to forget all about them. The character of a Russian contract killer assigned to clean up the General’s old mess is particularly poor – she’s supposed to be menacing, but proves surprisingly easy to thwart. It has holes as large as the Kremlin, and the big twist gets telegraphed so far in advance every single person in the audience has figured it out long before Devereaux finally puts two and two together.

Pierce Brosnan
Don’t Look Back: Pierce Brosnan in ‘The November Man’
Photo credit: Relativity Media

But thankfully it never lingers too long, and Brosnan is around to take your mind off it. Journeyman director Roger Donaldson has been down this road many times before, and he’s no one’s idea of a stylist, but he pulls off some reasonably competently staged action using the tight streets of Belgrade, and puts together chase scenes that are refreshingly old school compared to the hyperactive editing style in vogue right now.

As late summer entertainment, you could do a lot worse – “The Expendables 3” comes to mind. Brosnan’s time as James Bond may pale in comparison to the current Daniel Craig era, but he’s a reliable performer who still knows how to recut his character’s suit to make even this story seem entertaining.

“The November Man” opens everywhere on August 27th. Featuring Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Bill Smitrovich, Will Patton and Olga Kurylenko. Screenplay adapted by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek. Directed by Roger Donaldson. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com contributor Spike Walters


© 2014 Spike Walters, HollywoodChicago.com

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