Director Roger Donaldson seems to have a lot of movies in his filmography about a mentor and his protégé, only to have said protégé either flake out or flat-out turn on his mentor. No Way Out, Cocktail, The Recruit, and now The November Man. In addition to this cliché, this film seems to sport every espionage film standby in the book, making for a rather predictable and middling time at the movies. August is usually the time when studios dump their soon-to-be-forgotten films into that netherworld between the big summer blockbusters and the yearly awards season, and The November Man is quite indicative of the usual quality of films we receive around this time.
Based on a novel titled “There Are No Spies,” the seventh of late author Bill Granger’s “November Man” series, The November Man tries to spin us and twist us about in its hope that its convoluted plot will keep audiences enthralled for its 108-minute running time. Unfortunately, there’s not much easy to understand about The November Man – there’s something to do with the Second Chechen War, I think, as well as someone who’s been kidnapped and abused by a former Serbian military officer, and now she’s gone missing. I don’t know – all these plot points are thrown at us and almost dismissed just as quickly.
The only reason there seems to be some semblance of a plot is so that Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) has some kind of reason to shoot people and do a lot of running and fighting. Somewhere along the way, he picks up a social worker named Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko) who’s been targeted by a Russian assassin (Amila Terzimehić) being paid to tie up a lot of President Arkady Federov’s (Lazar Ristovski) loose ends. However, as his involvement in a CIA operation has gone south, his former trainee David Mason (Luke Bracey) has now been tasked with the elimination of Devereaux.
When thinking about The November Man, it’s not very easy to remember why, exactly, Devereaux does what he does in the movie. It’s easy enough to remember Pierce Brosnan’s role in it as the beleaguered CIA retiree who’s simply trying to put the best of his intentions in front of him as he, well, kills any agent who’s got him locked in their gunsights. Even his participation in the operation that kicks off this whole mess is kind of thrown offhandedly at us – I honestly don’t know why he was involved in the first place, other than for his personal connection to one of the mission’s operatives. It’s a storytelling mess, with only the action set pieces keeping everything bound together and semi-coherent.
The action isn’t really that suspenseful or eye-popping – it’s very matter-of-factly shown, which is a perfect accompaniment for Devereaux himself. He doesn’t go overboard with his motions or actions, preferring to do only that which is necessary or germane to completing his task. The same could be said about the entire movie, as it’s in and out of our eyeballs and memories as quick as you please. Sure, there are notable sequences that’ll make you feel like you’re watching “a grown-up James Bond” – i.e. there’s a lot of blood and gore in this film as opposed to the relatively bloodless shootings in the 007 pantheon. However, the parts in between the action are tedious and hackneyed, with every cliché in the spy game book coming out to play. Old agent comes out of retirement for one last job? Check. Teacher/student relationship strained? Check. Old agent gets double-crossed and shot at by his former student? Check. Agent and student play a cat-and-mouse game that only serves to show that the craftiness of the agent is nothing to trifle with? Check. Surprise twist regarding two characters that you’d figured out from the very beginning? Check. The “want a relationship? Get a dog” speech? Check.
The November Man is a celebration of these time-honored staples of spy cinema, and who better to do it with than a former James Bond? We’ve even got a former Bond Girl playing the exact same role she did in Quantum of Solace! There’s nothing new to see here, and there’s not much reason to do so, either, as The November Man tries too hard to be the anti-James Bond and winds up being a mediocre version of a Bond film mixed with a little bit of The Bourne Identity. You’re probably going to catch this on cable one evening, where you’ll probably enjoy it. However, for big screen viewing, The November Man tries to deliver and falls far short of its mark.