I’ll just begin this review with the blunt truth. The November Man is a complete failure. It isn’t necessarily an atrocious film, but it’s nowhere near being a good one, and it’s one of the most frustrating movies I’ve seen this year. It’s a film that doesn’t seem to know what it is. It’s a mixed up potion consisting of different stereotypes, clichés, and plot contrivances, all while not even maintaining a clear image of its intended impact. It’s a film that begs to be taken seriously like a Bourne film, yet tries to mix in Bond-esque humor that always falls flat. Let me do my best to explain.
The movie plays as a spy thriller, with Pierce Brosnan (yes, former Bond Pierce Brosnan) as Peter Devereaux, an ex-CIA agent who pitches his tent in the comfortable land of Switzerland. But he can’t live a peaceful life after his eventful career because the movie wouldn’t be as interesting. He’s lured out retirement for one final mission. He must kill Celia (Caterina Scorsone), a former Russian double-agent (those are never any good to keep around). See, Celia has broken into the safe of the president-elect and discovered things that the government just cannot afford to let out. The CIA, once again, is into some shady business. They are harboring secrets. So they hire Devereaux to track her down. There’s more to it, but that’s just the gist.
Sounds like your typical, mediocre spy movie, right? That’s because it is your typical, mediocre spy movie. Actually, I would venture to say that this is actually on the lower end of the typical, mediocre spy movie chain. This is a dull and flat-out boring thriller that barely ever delivers the thrills. It features its fair share of explosions and characters walking away in slow-motion as the fire dramatically erupts behind them. It has a few gunfights. It also has a completely uninteresting first half. If these are qualities you like in a film, then have at it.
Pierce Brosnan is the closest thing to good in the entire film. He brings nothing new to this genre and he does no career defining work, but he does a fine job at taking on a role he has played numerous times before. I mean, the man has had his run as Bond, and if this character isn’t a stripped down, less interesting, and Americanized knock-off of 007 then I don’t know what is. Devereaux is an alcoholic, gun wielding, and woman objectifying character that, unlike Bond, becomes impossible to root for as the film progresses. Bond has a level of charisma, a likeability that he maintains because of his actions. This character that Brosnan plays does some seriously questionable acts as the film begins to conclude, especially something he does to an innocent girl.
Which leads me to the film’s sexism. James Bond objectifies women, sure. But this movie, and Brosnan’s character, feels entirely and bluntly sexist. Shots of a woman being caressed by a guard, a woman seducing her former molester, and men calling woman offensive names just for the hell of it. It all factors into The November Man, and it’s quite bothersome. It isn’t trying to make a statement on how men treat women, but rather it’s the film itself that is treating women in such ways. The only woman that doesn’t come off as being an object for sex or sexual abuse is Eliza Taylor’s character, who eventually ends up in a predicament only to have the film drop her off completely. Seriously, after she gets hurt, she is never seen or mentioned again. Devices like this that make the film frustrating.
The screenplay by Michael Finch and Carl Gajdusek is adapted from the novel There Are No Spies, the seventh in a series of books by Bill Granger. The idea of making a film based on a book in a preexisting series has worked before. Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone was based on Dennis LeHane’s novel, which was the fourth in its series, and Jack Reacher was based on One Shot, a novel by Lee Child, which was the ninth installment in that series. So then, The November Man isn’t treading new ground in that regard, but it sure has a difficult time setting up its characters. The entire first half, while not without its fair share of action, is a bore. There is no reason for us to care about anyone on screen, and when the second half kicks in, not even an elevated performance from Pierce Brosnan can make it that much better.
But the ending is a bit better. Not good, but better. It picks up a bit. Things actually start happening, and I swear that director Roger Donaldson filmed those scenes primarily and then settled for including mostly all the others. Donaldson crafted a fine film with The Bank Job, one of the best Jason Statham flicks out there. Here, he digs for action gold, but comes up empty handed. In effect, so do we.
The November Man (2014) 108 mins Rated R for strong violence including a sexual assault, language, sexuality/nudity, and brief drug use Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Olga Kurylenko, Luke Bracey Writers: Michael Finch, Carl Gajdusek Director: Roger Donaldson