Director: Roger Donaldson
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Bill Smitrovich, Eliza Taylor, Will Patton, Amila Terzimehic
Plot: A spy (Brosnan) comes out of retirement to extract an undercover agent, as well as a former lover, who has valuable information. But is he being set-up?
When Brosnan finally hung up the role of James Bond, he was still feeling the spy bug. I mean… who wouldn’t? Brosnan had turned out to be the very image of the uber-cool spy and it was a crying shame when it was revealed he had stepped down from the iconic role. However, Brosnan’s attention had turned to the novels of Peter Devereaux, a CIA agent known as the November Man, eager to kick-start a whole new spy series. The projects never really took off until 2014, when he finally got the chance to deliver his follow-up to Bond. Sadly, the result is a little mixed.
First the plot. Devereaux is on a mission in Montenegro, protecting an ambassador with the help of a CIA recruit, David Mason, played appropriately broody by Luke Bracey. It goes wrong and Mason takes out the assassin with a sniper shot, against Devereaux’s orders. Mason saves his mentor, but a stray shot kills a child in the process. As a result, Devereaux recommends against putting Mason in active field duty, both agents haunted by the death of this child. Eight years later, Mason has made it to field duty regardless and is living a comfortable life as a member of a strike team for the CIA. Devereaux is out of the game altogether, until one day his old handler, Hanley, comes to him in confidence. An old lover, Natalia, has been undercover, trying to expose a politician who committed war crimes in his past. She has the name of a witness, a girl he raped and enslaved during his time tearing up Chechya. Devereaux launches an one man assault to get her back, which brings him into direct conflict with Mason. The two of them play a cat and mouse game, trying to find the witness that can take this politician down, all the while, staying one step ahead of the ambassador and the deadly Russian assassin sent to kill this witness… and the one connection to this hidden woman, Olga Kurylenko’s social worker, Alice Fournier.
It is exciting enough, I suppose. It feels a bit like someone trying to find the right balance between a Bond movie and a Bourne movie (most of the movie is Devereaux staying one step ahead of the government rather than fighting any criminals), but only being able to afford 15 million to do so. As a result, it feels like the best the director and Brosnan could do with the materials given, but it still only really works as light entertainment. The best thing about it is easily seeing Pierce Brosnan back in action. It is like James Bond all over again, Brosnan handling the action and quips with professional ease. Sometimes it wavers a little too close to the iconic spy, especially one scene where he briefly reunites with his ex-lover, but on the whole, it kind of becomes November Man’s saving grace. It even adds a bit more layers onto the spy performance for Devereaux to handle. If this wasn’t a successful series of books, you would assume that Donaldson’s endgame was to make his lead hero slowly devolve into the villain. Devereaux lacks the kindness to Bond, only helping out the supporting cast when it is directly involved with his current mission. He wants to exact revenge as much as he wants to save the day. One scene, where he drunkenly decides to take a detour to assassinate Mason really does throw him directly in the bad guy spotlight. It might come across as a little jarring. However, on the whole, it does feel like Brosnan back to his best. Sadly the rest of the film only halfway meets him. Will Patton is under-used. Luke Bracey is meant to play the other side of the coin to Devereaux, but he isn’t developed enough. He can cope with the action, but when his love interest story is rushed, we invest little emotion into the character. Olga Kurylenko isn’t as poorly written as she usually is, but her character arc gets a little too close to the one she also had in Bond, again creating the sense that you might as well be watching a James Bond movie. It is a shame, because November Man does show promise in the smaller places. The gore is much grittier than with 007 and some ambigious plot points add a playfulness to the story. Did Devereaux sleep with Fournier when they spent the night together? The closing shot?
Final Verdict: It’s fun to see Brosnan join Liam Neeson with the ageing action hero role, but this movie is a little light on the thrills to stick in the memory.