The November Man (2014)

As an actor, I like Pierce Brosnan. I really do. I thought he made a good ‘James Bond’, who happened to get saddled with some passable, but not great Bond scripts (the less said about ‘Die Another Day’, the better!). Other roles he’s taken on, outside the Bond-verse, have also been quite good. He knows how to bring a certain manly gravity to most of the characters he breathes life into. Conversely, I also like some of the work of director Roger Donaldson, with his 1994 remake of ‘The Getaway’, ‘Species’ (1995) and ‘Dante’s Peak’ (1997) all immediately leaping to mind as noteworthy, solidly entertaining titles. Here, he reteams with his ‘Dante’s Peak’ leading man Brosnan to take on a twisty international espionage story. All seemed lined up for a good time at The Movies. So…what the hell happened?!
First off, The Story follows ‘Peter Devereaux’ (Bronsnan), aka ‘The November Man’, as he stereotypically falls into the not-so-good graces of his former employers, the good ole Central Intelligence Agency. During an operation in Moscow to remove a highly-placed Agency mole, who happens to be a former lover of ‘Devereaux’s, it’s determined that she’s a liabilitiy to the mission and is abruptly (and violently) murdered before ‘The November Man’s shocked eyes. This understandably pisses him off, especially when he discovers that it was a former pupil of his who pulled the trigger. As he opts to go all ‘Jason Bourne’ on The Company, he unearths a plot involving a ‘Russian General turned Presidential candidate’, war crimes in Chechnya and a missing refugee who may or may not have the power to bring down part of the Russian Government AND the CIA. Despite a lot of ‘been there, done that’, as spy stories go, this one could’ve been a great and exciting movie. Too bad there is SO much lazy technical bullshit and convoluted story-telling on display.
In all honesty, the flick started off promisingly. There was a decent setup and we were introduced to ‘Devereaux’ in a manner that let us know that A) he was NOT ‘James Bond’ and B) he knew his shit, as ‘tradecraft’ goes. But as the story progressed and more flimsy characters were brought into the fold, problems started becoming more and more noticeable (and laughable), both on The Page AND on The Screen.
Before I get into ‘The Bad’, I’ll mention some of ‘The Good’. Where some of the ‘production’ was piss-poor, other aspects were really well done. The Sound Design (especially during the gunfights) was effective, the exotic locations were used fairly well, the several explosions were cool and the use of bloody squibs was welcome. Brosnan was interesting (if somewhat uneven) whenever he was on screen and Olga Kurylenko (the missing Chechen refugee) was, as usual, VERY easy on the eyes. And that’s about it.
On the Bad side of things, we have a rather unflattering list of complaints. First off would have to be the script. It doesn’t seem to know what direction it wants to go in nor does it seem to know exactly who we’re supposed to be rooting for. For instance, the character of ‘Devereaux’s former pupil ‘Mason’ (Luke Bracey) is completely bland and unengaging. He’s just a pretty dude who we’re led to believe has some kind of admiring connection to his former teacher-turned-target. Unfortunately, this aspect fell completely flat in the execution. They engage in this bitter ‘cat n mouse’ game that I assume is supposed to have some emotional resonance due to their collective past, but we were initially given SO little history that none of it seems to have any relevance. Speaking of not having any relevance, there’s a female character who is introduced as ‘Mason’s neighbor, whose cat conveniently always seems to find a way into the younger spies apartment. This clumsy plot device is then bolstered by this chicks repeated attempts at flirting with ‘Mason’, who is distant and at times, flat out rude to her. But no…she clearly craves his seed and continues her Dumb and Oblivious Blond act until he gives in and they go out for a clubby, boozy night on the town. They return later, acting like they’ve been ‘involved’ forever…and proceed to gratuitously fuck the hell out of each other. All this time, ‘Devereaux’ and Kurylenko’s character have broken into a random (and conveniently empty) apartment across the street and are staking out Spy Guy’s place (while getting shit-faced on the apartment owners booze stash). Then comes the scene where I suddenly wasn’t sure who we were supposed to be rooting for. After ‘Drunk Devereaux’ ninja’s his way into ‘Mason’s place, he takes the Blond Neighbor Chick violently hostage and proceeds to monologue about what’s going on to ‘Mason’. As the scene escalates, ‘Devereaux’ goes to make his escape…and does so by slicing the poor girls femoral artery with a large kitchen knife!! Added to which, he tells ‘Mason’ that he’s going to do it, seconds before he does! What the hell?!! Right then, I knew the flick was in trouble. You can’t set up a Main Character, who up until that point was essentially The Victim, then have him do something SO self-serving and horrible, as to potentially murder this completely innocent bystander, just to reinforce a symbolic lesson that he’s trying to teach a fellow spy. That’s the type of shit that a cinematic serial killer would do. It would typically help justify a nasty and deserved death in the flick’s 3rd Act, as opposed to building up sympathy and reinforcing our desire to see this character succeed, which is what SEEMED to be happening up until THIS point. Oh, and then the victimized Neighbor Character vanished from the story. Completely. After all the build-up, she’s just cast aside and we never find out what happened to her. Did she die? Was she confined to a hospital? Did ‘Mason’ give ANY kind of a shit about her? (shrugs)
And it was pretty much from THAT scene where the movie went into an uncontrolled tail-spin. Numerous plot holes and inconsistencies rear their ugly heads as the story heads toward it’s fairly obvious ‘twist’. Added to which, some of the character actions are flat-out asinine.
There’s a scene where Kurylenko is waiting at a train station (of course) for ‘Devereaux’ and his long-missing daughter (SPOILER, and COMPLETELY unnecessary plot twist) to turn up so that they can make their triumphant escape. When she should be laying low and keeping an eye out, she suddenly opts to hop on a nearby computer to write out her tragic life story. Then, The Inevitable happens and a key assassin turns up to take her out. They engage in a foot chase that ends with the perfect chance to kill off the attacker once and for all…and Kurylenko doesn’t take it. She just walks away from the unconscious bitch and goes back to the computer!!! She just sits down and keeps writing away…like nothing scary or terrible had just happened! (face palm).
Also, whoever the Editor and Continuity people were on this…should be fired on the spot. There were numerous instances where weapons (in particular) noticeably changed in people’s hands from shot to shot…all in the same scene! It was ridiculous! I would’ve let it go if it had happened once, but this seemed to happen in EVERY action scene. Seriously, did Brosnan just forget (over and over again) that his character has been packing a black Walther 9mm in a previous shot and just blindly took whatever pistol-looking thing the Prop Master just happened to have lying around, no matter how obviously different it was?! It was totally Amateur Hour.
All in all, ‘The November Man’ was a disappointing entry into a genre that I normally really like. I love me a good spy flick…it’s too bad that this isn’t one. It comes across as a hodge-podge of obvious influences from far better films like the Bourne Series, ‘Spy Game’ (2001), and ‘Assassins’ (1995), just to name a few off the top of my noggin. A couple of effective scenes aside, this movie comes across as lazy, clumsy and unfocused. It’s unfortunate because the proven talent IS there…it just didn’t know what to do with the badly-written material. And seriously, Continuity Person…GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER!
If you skip this one, you’re not missing anything…except maybe some frustration and a series of slow ‘face palms’.

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