Pierce Brosnan is best known for his role in 2008’s Mamma Mia!, but what you may not know is that the ruggedly handsome Irishman used to portray James Bond – back in the days before Daniel Craig. That period, from 1995 to 2002, was not the best for 007. Brosnan had his charms, but the aspects surrounding Bond in those films were often quite ludicrous (such as Denise Richards as a scientist named Christmas Jones). It’s been well over a decade since Brosnan hung up the ole’ Walther, but the man can’t quite quit the literary spy roles. In The November Man – based on the novel There Are No Spies by Bill Granger – Brosnan returns to espionage. But does he still have a place in that industry?
Brosnan stars as Peter Devereaux, a retired CIA agent who is pulled back into the field when his lover (Mediha Musliovic), a fellow agent, purports to possess dirt on Russian president and war criminal Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski). Peter finds himself stuck between two sides as he tries to protect social worker Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko), the only woman who can help him track down the information he needs to take Federov down. Little does Peter know that the powers that be at the CIA have tasked his former protege, David Mason (Luke Bracey), with eliminating the older spy.
So, there’s a lot going on in The November Man (so much that they almost forget to explain the title), and not all of it is very coherent. The ultimate villain’s master plan doesn’t make much sense, and all of it is really just an excuse for a man in his 60’s to kill a bunch of people. But if that’s all there is to The November Man, then how does it distinguish itself from similar movies like Kevin Costner’s 3 Days to Kill or Liam Neeson’s entire oeuvre since 2008? The answer is: it doesn’t.
Very early on, the movie tries to make a point about collateral damage and senseless violence, and you almost think that is what the picture will be about. But then Peter starts killing CIA agents indiscriminately. These guys have no idea why they are dying – it’s senseless violence at its most senseless! Yet Peter continues to chastise Mason for a mistake he made five years earlier. Uh, bro? I bet some of those dudes you just blew away had families too.
The November Man has the same problem with misogyny. About 45 minutes into the movie I was ready to heap a miniscule amount of praise on the film for being progressive. Sure, none of the female characters had had any agency up to that point, but at least they weren’t being objectified by the male gaze. Even Kurylenko, who is so gorgeous that you probably objectified her just a little bit upon reading her name. But director Roger Donaldson keeps her in sensible pants and a blouse through the first two acts of the film. Bravo. But just as I jotted down a note to that effect, we immediately cut to a strip club scene, and while that may be a character-driven moment, the dress that Kurylenko has to wear in the final act (just barely falling outside of the category of “indecent”) is not. And the choice dialogue that comes out of one particular character’s mouth? My god. I have my moments of unintentional chauvinism, but I was sitting in the theater wondering if I was being pranked.
The November Man tries to have it both ways. It wants to rail against emotionless killing and hatred towards women, but then it plays right into its own traps. I can’t tell if it’s a problem with Donaldson’s direction or the screenplay by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek (probably both), but either way it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
A sequel to The November Man was greenlit a couple weeks ago, but I wouldn’t be surprised if poor box office scuttles those plans. That would probably be for the best, as there is honestly nothing present by which to recommend the move. It is completely derivative, without any unique direction or even a notable amount of interest from its cast. The November Man will already be forgotten by this November, and that is no tragedy.
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