A film review by Craig J. Koban September 5, 2014

THE NOVEMBER MAN jj
 

2014, R, 118 mins.

 

Pierce Brosnan as Peter Devereaux  /  Luke Bracey as David Mason  /  Olga Kurylenko as Alice Fournier  /  Will Patton as Perry Weinstein  /  Bill Smitrovich as Hanley

Directed by Roger Donaldson  /  Written by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek, based on the novel by Bill Granger

I’m not quite sure what kind of film THE NOVEMBER MAN is trying to be.  A James Bond-ian spy thriller?  A gritty, rough and tough action flick in the Jason Bourne mould?  

What ultimately emerges is a spy espionage thriller that dutifully – and rather mechanically – feels like it's lazily cherry picking from the discarded and recycled conventions of other countless genre films, which consequently leaves THE NOVEMBER MAN feeling dull, muddled, wholly lacking in originality.  The film’s only saving grace is the appearance of the stalwart and poised Pierce Brosnan, who famously made a career of playing 007 and can inhabit these types of films in his sleep.  Yet, any interest the film tries to develop about a CIA operative at the autumn of his career and life is squandered in a sketchily plotted narrative. 

Based on the seventh book in a series of popular spy novels featuring CIA blunt force operative Peter Devereaux by Bill Granger, THE NOVEMBER MAN at least has a promising opening act.  It begins in 2008, during which time we are introduced to the titular character (Brosnan) that’s in the process of training his new recruit David Mason (Luke Bracey, vanilla bland and uninspired in the part) all of the requisite methods on-the-fly that will make him a lethal clandestine force.  One mission in particular goes sour really fast when Mason makes a categorical blunder – after refusing an order by his mentor – that leads to the death of a small boy.  Because of the emotional anxiety of the aftermath of the mission, Devereaux decides that enough is enough and opts for retirement and seclusion.  With Devereaux leaving his CIA position vacant, the impetuous, but ambitious Mason fills in. 

 

 

The plot then flashforwards several years when – wouldn’t ya know it? – Devereaux is lured back into active service by his old handler Hanley (Bill Smitrovich), to locate and protect a highly valuable Russian informant that has the goods on Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski), a ruthless politician that has hopes of becoming Russia’s next president.  Things grow increasingly complicated for the world weary Devereaux when he realizes that the informant is an old flame – and mother of his only child.  When she’s killed Devereaux is pinpointed as the culprit and the CIA orders a massive task force to hunt him down.  Predictably, a vast governmental conspiracy is afoot, which leads Devereaux to seek out alliances with people that can help him bring Federov down, like Alice Fournier (the luminous Olga Kurylenko), a social worker that once came to the aid and rescue of a young girl that Feverov have an illicit relationship with in the past.  As the plot thickens and Devereaux gets closer and closer to the truth, his old protégé in Mason is assigned with terminating his ex-teacher. 

Again, the casting and appearance of Brosnan in THE NOVEMBER MAN brings a level of good baggage to the role.  It’s been well over a decade since the actor has played the most famous British secret agent in the world, so there is at least a decent level of alluring intrigue and excitement in seeing Brosnan inhabit the guise of another secret agent – albeit, much older, grizzlier, and angrier – in a more modern setting.  For viewers that have pained to see him return to the silver screen in a spy role of swaggering resiliency, then THE NOVEMBER MAN emerges – initially at least – as a nifty curiosity piece.  The problem, though, is that there is no one else in the cast that creates a spark of interest in the story, or, for that matter, can match Brosnan’s intensity on screen.  Luke Bracey is a decent physical presence in the film, but as the operative that unavoidably has to face-off against Devereaux, he’s so lacking in charm that you have to kind of remind yourself to maintain some interest in his character. 

For as reliable and decent as Brosnan is in the film, Devereaux remains an odd cipher.  Here’s a man that’s a chronic alcoholic and is toxically anti-social without much of a reason to live in the world (unless you count his daughter, a character that’s thrown into the film for plot convenience more than anything else).  The film can’t seem to really decide what kind of hero – or anti-hero – Devereaux is; sometimes he commits acts of limitless bravery and is capable of instant altruism, but then later he’s capable of unspeakably barbaric acts (like severing the artery of an innocent women to distract and throw Mason off).  Are we supposed to root Devereaux on as the hero or be repulsed by him as a vengeful, desperate, and selfish loner?  THE NOVEMBER MAN seems clueless in this regard. 

The overall plotting itself is, rather paradoxically, both simplistically rendered and confusing and convoluted at the same time.  Like Devereaux, many other characters – and their reasons for existing within the larger framework of the story – are ill-defined at times.  More often than not, you're left asking yourself questions as to “who’s that?” and “how do they relate to the other character” and so forth.  Even the potentially compelling relationship between Devereaux and Fournier – which is given ample screen time – seems frustratingly vague and abstract.  Then there’s the issue of the film’s many logical gaffes, which really takes one out of the gritty reality that the film is trying to immerse us in.  THE NOVEMBER MAN is one of those spy thrillers that often, for example, has agents running around in public waving heavy artillery around, during which time innocent bystanders don’t seem the least bit distracted or frightened by them.  Also, considering the vast arsenal of sophisticated high tech surveillance gear at the CIA’s disposal, Devereaux is able to outfox his pursuers a bit too easily and leisurely to be taken credibly.  That, and for a most wanted man, he seems  to have no problem cavorting around in broad daylight without anyone on the street identifying him. 

THE NOVEMBER MAN was directed with reasonable levels of journeyman-like polish by Roger Donaldson, who previously made films like THIRTEEN DAYS and THE BANK JOB (which I both greatly admired) as well as previously working with Brosnan on DANTE’S PEAK.  Considering the film’s extremely small budget of $15 million, Donaldson at least makes THE NOVEMBER MAN look like a more expensive thriller than it appears to be.  Yet, despite Brosnan’s snarling intensity in the lead role, there’s simply no tangible reason to rush out to see this film.  It fails to rise above the level of an easily forgettable and cheaply disposable espionage thriller that feels more akin to a subpar TV-movie-of-the-week than a fully fledged and realized feature film.  Even when THE NOVEMBER MAN rushes itself towards its humdinger of an unintentionally laughable climax, any budding interest in this material is quickly jettisoned.   

And Brosnan, most definitely, deserves better than what this film offers him.  For sure.

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