The November Man really wants to be a big, dumb action movie, and it achieves that goal for several brief moments. It’s the type of movie that Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme has put out in recent years, with a plot that is pasted together using nothing but cliches and enough cursing and female nudity to hide its lack of substance. However, this isn’t a direct-to-DVD feature, this is a Hollywood release, albeit one that is being abandoned in the last days of August. So to differentiate further, The November Man is also an ugly film. It shows realistic violence for seemingly no good reason, even managing to botch a simple railing kill. The entire production is stocked with enough characters to fill the cabins at Camp Crystal Lake, and this is all so the writers and director could fit in more “shocking” deaths per minute than the Bond films they wish they could be creating. As a consequence of all this, I as a viewer failed to care about most every character in the film, and what was left was just a bunch of ugly, traumatized people waving guns around and screaming things in Russian. There are some actors that could make that entertaining, but the sleepy Pierce Brosnan presented here is not one of them
Brosnan plays Peter Devereaux, a retired CIA agent who was known as The November Man by his peers (to spoil why would give away one of the only moments the movie has going for it). He is pulled back into the game by his former chief (Bill Smitrovich) to rescue his lover from an undercover operation in Russia involving an up and coming politician with a shady past (the amazingly named Lazar Ristovski). He also has a younger partner (Luke Bracey) who has risen in the ranks despite an incident involving an accidental shooting that drove Peter to retirement in the first place. Eventually, we also meet a domineering Russian assassin, a social worker who isn’t who she says she is, a reporter eager to uncover the truth, and about four or five older gentlemen all portrayed as the villain from one time or another. The plot is standard, and most of the twists can be seen coming from a mile away, which makes it hard to describe the film as the spy thriller its creators have labeled it as.
There are several interesting action set pieces interspersed between the spy catchphrases and dour character moments that litter the film. Most any film that frames characters throwing fists and wielding pipes in a boiler room can’t be all bad, and there is also a brief scene involving a shovel that was quite enjoyable. However, in most every instance, I was immediately reminded that this wasn’t supposed to be a fun movie. Instead, I was supposed to be taking the deaths of faceless goons and laughable caricatures very seriously. So the scene in the boiler room ends with Pierce Brosnan choking a man with a rubber hose, and you can see him gasping for air. Later, he throws a goon off of a railing, and we then get a close up shot of his head landing on the floor below, as if the audience couldn’t already figure out that he was dispatched. Even the film’s villain must be hamfistedly shown to be evil, so instead of reveling in his scumbag nature, the audience has to endure a POV rape shot that hits a hammer over their head with the phrase: “I’m horrible, you shouldn’t like me.”
Even a film with ultraviolence and plotting out of a film school textbook can be saved by an excellent performance from its main character, but Pierce Brosnan seems to have lost whatever spark he displayed as the charismatic James Bond in films such as Goldeneye. The character he plays is a jaded cynic who doesn’t think twice about slicing down women and dispatching friendly agents to achieve his goals. Whenever there is an opportunity for a clever turn of phrase or (heaven forbid) a one-liner, he instead offers world weary advice to his companions or speculates on days gone by. He is the type of Jack Bauer character that could easily be placed into a different film with no changes and be its villain. He even has the personality quirk down, as whenever his character needs to emote above a gruff mumble, he screams at the top of his lungs. It happens at least five times, and all of them are comically out of place, causing me to chuckle in what are supposedly the most tense moments of the film.
As I was leaving my screener for The November Man, I overheard many members of the mostly elderly audience extol the virtues of the film, so perhaps it can find an audience among those who spend their evenings watching shows like Breaking Bad or playing Telltale’s The Walking Dead. Those same people who want harsh reality thrown into their faces as they sit down for their entertainment. For me, I spent the majority of the film wincing and wishing that it was filmed thirty years ago, when people didn’t feel guilty for watching a super soldier gun down hundreds of mooks, because it was clear that it was all a fantasy. The November Man is no fantasy, it is a grim, dark slice of violence that takes itself as seriously as a documentary despite its plot and characters feeling as if they were lifted from a cheap action flick you’d find in a Wal-Mart value bin. Fittingly, that just so happens to be the only place I would recommend picking up a copy this coming November.
The November Man
In Theaters: August 27th, 2014
Runtime: 108 min
Rating: Rated R for strong violence including a sexual assault, language, sexuality/nudity and brief drug use
Director: Roger Donaldson
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Eliza Taylor
Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller
Studio: Irish DreamTime, SPD Films
Distributor: Relativity Media
Official Site: http://www.thenovemberman.com/