THE NOVEMBER MAN
DIRECTED BY Roger Donaldson
STARS Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey
It was in 2002 that the spy trade became a young man's game. While Pierce Brosnan was making his final appearance as James Bond in the roundly, soundly ridiculed Die Another Day, Vin Diesel came roaring to the front with xXx (which even opens with a sequence in which a 007-esque secret agent gets murdered while on assignment) and Matt Damon did even better by kicking off the successful Jason Bourne franchise with The Bourne Identity. But the older agents weren't quite ready to throw in the towel. Daniel Craig re-energized the Bond stock with 2006's Casino Royale, Gary Oldman picked up a Best Actor Oscar nomination for 2011's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman commanded attention in this summer's A Most Wanted Man. Heck, even Rowan Atkinson did his part for Queen and Country with a pair of Johnny English comedies.
And now here's Brosnan, the former Bond himself, back in the saddle again at the age of 61, showing he's still got what it takes by engaging in espionage activities in The November Man. It's a pet project for the actor — he's been trying to bring the late Bill Granger's novel (original title: There Are No Spies) to the screen for almost a decade, and he receives an executive producer credit — and he's even stated that there will be a sequel based on one of Granger's other novels. Yet the result is so desultory, it's hard to imagine anyone wanting to see a follow-up — best to wait for the next 007 outing instead.
Brosnan's Peter Devereaux is a CIA operative who quits the agency after his eager-beaver young partner David Mason (Luke Bracey) accidentally kills a little boy during one of their missions. Devereaux has since spent five years enjoying the quiet life, but like Al Pacino stated in The Godfather: Part III — or was it Joe Montana in the NFL? — "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in." Translation: A CIA superior (Bill Smitrovich) shows up with an assignment, one that leads to Devereaux springing back into action. It also leads to him subsequently protecting a woman (Olga Kurylenko) who's being sought by the CIA as well as a Russian politico (Lazar Ristovski) who doesn't want his past war crimes impeding his climb to the top. Once the double-crosses begin, Devereaux ends up on the run from everyone; that includes Mason, his former protégé who now has a license to kill his erstwhile mentor.
Roger Donaldson is a competent director — past credits include two very good thrillers, No Way Out with Kevin Costner and The Bank Job with Jason Statham — and he does acceptable work in keeping this film moving. And there's an interesting bit of Six Degrees of Separation at play since Kurylenko played a Bond girl opposite not Brosnan but Craig, in 2008's Quantum of Solace. Otherwise, this is warmed-over spy vs. spy material, albeit featuring characters whose illogical actions repeatedly place them closer on the IQ scale to Atkinson's bumbling Johnny English than any of the Bond incarnations. In the central role, Brosnan lends his usual conviction, but one particular attempt to add complexity to the character goes too far when Devereaux brutally, almost fatally, injures Mason's innocent girlfriend (Eliza Taylor) just to make a point. Should we assume he also drowns puppies on the side?
As for the title, it's explained late in the game, when Devereaux is informed that he was given that nickname since once he passes through, everything around him dies. That's a pretty daft explanation, one I admittedly didn't guess beforehand. Here I figured it was because Brosnan was appearing in a turkey fit to be stuffed.