D: Roger Donaldson / 108m
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Bill Smitrovich, Lazar Ristovski, Eliza Taylor, Caterina Scorsone, Will Patton, Mediha Musliovic, Amila Terzimehic, Patrick Kennedy
Montenegro, 2008. CIA agent Peter Devereaux (Brosnan) and his protegé David Mason (Bracey) are on an assignment to stop the assassination of a visiting dignitary. Devereaux takes the man’s place and while they identify and kill the would-be assassin, it comes at a price: Mason’s lack of experience causes the death of a young boy.
Lausanne, 2013. Devereaux is now retired and owns a small lakeside cafe. One day he’s approached by his old handler, Hanley (Smitrovich), with a job. Devereaux’s ex-lover, Natalia (Musliovic) is in trouble. She is in Moscow working undercover as an aide to Russian President-elect Arkady Federov (Ristovski). Natalia has uncovered intelligence that she says will destroy Federov’s chances of becoming president, but won’t reveal any details unless she’s extracted. Devereaux agrees to get her out. On the day of the extraction, Natalia obtains the evidence she needs against Federov but her actions are discovered. With her position compromised, and with Federov’s men chasing her, she evades capture long enough for Devereaux to find her. However, Hanley’s superior, Weinstein (Patton) gives an order that leads the extraction team – led by Mason – to kill her.
Devereaux kills the rest of Mason’s team but leaves him alive. While Mason is tasked with tracking down his mentor – Weinstein believes Devereaux and Hanley are in collusion, but doesn’t know why – Devereaux seeks to find out just what was going on in Moscow and why Natalia was killed. Using the evidence she gathered and was able to give him before she died, Devereaux tries to find a young woman named Mira Filipova; she is the only witness to war crimes Federov committed in Chechnya, and he will stop at nothing to silence her. With the only clue to her whereabouts being her association with a Belgrade women’s aid centre, Devereaux – and an assassin (Terzimehic) sent by Federov – attempts to find out more from centre worker Alice Fournier (Kurylenko). They go on the run together, chased by both Federov’s assassin and Mason, but managing to stay one step ahead of both. Along the way Devereaux tests Mason’s resolve, learns the truth about Federov’s involvement in a bombing that started the Chechnya war, and finds his twelve year old daughter, Lucy, put in harm’s way.
An old-fashioned spy thriller where the Russians are – ostensibly – the bad guys, and the CIA is equally corrupt, this adaptation of the novel There Are No Spies by Bill Granger (and the seventh in a series of novels featuring Devereaux) has a simple, retro feel to it, but the now over-familiar Belgrade locations and haphazard plotting, as well as some disastrous attempts at characterisation, leave the movie looking and feeling disjointed and ill-conceived. From its opening sequence, The November Man makes a valiant attempt to bring the viewer on board but then keeps them at a distance thanks to its unfailing ability to jettison credibility at every turn.
Despite the retro feel – at one point Devereaux picks a lock the old-fashioned way – The November Man makes the occasional attempt to appear and feel relevant, but making Devereaux seem like an ageing Jason Bourne merely highlights the scarcity of original thought on display. The script, by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek, is littered with ill-considered and poorly written scenes that fail to advance the plot, and which give the impression that, rather than adapting Granger’s novel, they were making things up as they went along. There’s one very disturbing, completely out of left field scene where Devereaux cuts the femoral artery of Mason’s neighbour, Sarah (Taylor), leaving her to die unless Mason saves her (and doesn’t pursue his mentor). It’s an incredibly stupid scene, badly written and directed, and serves only to show how determined the movie is to get it wrong.
The basic plot is sound if unoriginal – someone in the CIA colluded with Federov to instigate the war in Chechnya, but who? – but somewhere along the way the need to add in as many convoluted twists and turns as possible has distorted the movie’s focus and made it more ludicrous than convincing. There’s also some wildly absurd action beats that defy logic, such as when Mason drives at full speed into a wall in order to kill the agent he’s riding with (don’t ask!); seconds later, Mason’s running away from the crash as if nothing’s happened.
Against all this, not even Brosnan can rescue things, even when running along alleyways and hotel corridors like he did in his Bond days. He’s also tasked with constantly looking aggrieved (and judging by how badly the movie’s turned out, he probably knew something was up during filming), but it’s the continual change back and forth between cold-blooded killer and sensitive family man that fails to have any impact. Thanks to the script, Brosnan is effectively playing two different Devereauxs, but they don’t fit together (not even once), leaving the actor struggling to combine the two into one recognisable character. It’s no surprise then that the rest of the cast fare equally badly, though Bracey deserves special mention for the woodenness of his expressions and the awkwardness of his line readings. Kurylenko has a little more to do than be the female lead who gets to “stand-next-to-the-star-and-look-pretty”, and Smitrovich does aggressive even when the script doesn’t call for it.
In the end, The November Man is a soggy mess of a movie that does just enough to hold the attention but without putting in too much effort. Donaldson directs as if he’s only seen every other page of the script, and the location photography by Romain Lacourbas is perfunctory, leaving the backdrop of the movie looking less than interesting. And John Gilbert’s editing lacks the necessary punch and energy to make the action scenes anything more than humdrum and predictably constructed.
Rating: 4/10 – weak in almost every department, The November Man is a dire attempt at replicating the kind of spy thrillers that popped up every other month throughout the Eighties; it doesn’t work here, and hasn’t done in any of the three hundred similar movies that Steven Seagal has made in the last ten years either.