November Man Review
by Fred Topel
The November Man started out as a perfectly entertaining generic action movie, but it got so aggressively stupid, you really can’t even enjoy it on a superficial level. I was going to say I’m glad they finally made a sequel to The January Man but why did they have to skip February through October? But, November Man isn’t even worth my lame Franchise Fred jokes.
Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) is training young recruit Mason (Luke Bracey) in the field, but Mason doesn’t obey unorthodox orders and causes a fatal accident on a mission. Five years later, Devereaux is out of the game when Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) asks him to do one last mission for him. This mission leads to a confrontation between Devereaux and Mason and neither one can pull the trigger.
That’s all fine. The mentor/student action movie works pretty well for a bit. The specifics are interchangeable politics about the CIA’s current enemies and loose ends. Brosnan and Bracey are great running around shooting at each other and hitting generic thugs. Director Roger Donaldson unfortunately employs the modern shakycam style of filming, but he keeps his subjects centered in those bobbing frames and edits the pieces together so you can still see who Devereaux is hitting and how he escapes.
The plot gets way more complicated than necessary, and this could be a problem with the source material, There Are No Spies by Bill Granger. Or, it could be a poor adaptation. In any event, the CIA is after Devereaux because either he messed up their legit extraction of a contact, or he was supposed to be killed as their patsy anyway. That’s all we need to know to watch our former allies go one on one, but November Man keeps pushing it further.
Deveraux saves refugee aide Alice (Olga Kurylenko) from a Russian assassin (Amilia Terzimehic) so runs around with her for the rest of the film. Alice helps victims of sex trafficking but she’s out for revenge against a Chechen general because she has to have a thing too, and tying it in with Chechnya makes it relevant. Hanley is interrogated because there’s a mole somewhere and all the stuff of spy movies. Perhaps it was all in the book, in which case if it was this superfluous in the book, the film has every write to streamline it.
I respect Pierce Brosnan for wanting to go dark in a way that his Bond movies never allowed, but this is not the dark, edgy role he was looking for. Devereaux drinks too much and he threatens Mason’s lover, but the film would never let him really do anything irredeemable. The November Man still plays it safe, making sure we still like Devereaux and will come back to see the November Man 2 they already greenlit. In a post Breaking Bad world, I really hope audiences are sophisticated enough to welcome a true antihero. Maybe in November Man 2 he’ll actually kill someone we like.
On the plus side, Smitrovich is hilarious. He seems completely aware of the cliched situations he’s in and relishes being politically incorrect. Bracey makes a good young hotshot which makes me excited to see him in Point Break. I was disappointed in the assassin. She has an awesome introduction doing ballet stretches and assembling her gun, but she’s a pretty bad assassin. She’s easily distracted and keeps losing her target. Kurylenko is asked to get emotional and vulnerable and then denied the catharsis.
I have to admire the balls of announcing a sequel before the film is even released. Usually on movies that are obviously intended to be franchises, the filmmakers give us a coy, “Let’s see if audiences respond to the first one before we think about a sequel.” That strategy has more balls than any of the actual content of the movie itself.