The November Man
Written by Michael Finch & Karl Gajdusek
Directed by Roger Donaldson
Back in February, it seemed almost unfathomable that 2014 could produce a more listless spy thriller than 3 Days to Kill. Oh, for a return to those bygone days of innocence. There’s a new kid on the block and he looks a lot like the guy who used to be James Bond. Based on a popular series of ‘80’s espionage novels, The November Man feels less like an adaptation and more like the outtakes from some mediocre made-for-television movie. It’s a Frankenstein creation of re-cycled plots and villains, pieced together with lethargic pacing and turgid action sequences. Where are the invisible cars when you need them?
We open things with Devereaux (Brosnan) dutifully training a gifted but undisciplined protégé, Mason (Luke Bracey). As often happens with gifted but undisciplined protégés, something goes horribly wrong and people get dead. A despondent Devereaux leaves the spy game and opens a café where he can sit around and watch his young daughter grow into an obnoxious teenager. Mason continues his training and becomes ‘employee of the month’ material; he shoots first and asks questions later. So everyone lives happily ever after, right?
One of Devereaux’ old handlers, Hanley (Bill Smitrovich), lures him back into the game to protect a female Russian informant… who just happens to be the mother of Devereaux’ daughter. As often happens when trying to protect female Russian informants who gave birth to your daughter, something goes horribly wrong and people get dead. Devereaux gets blamed for the debacle and Mason is dispatched to kill him. There’s also a beautiful social worker (Olga Kurylenko) with a dark secret who gets caught in the crossfire, only to fall for Devereaux because that’s what needs to happen. So everyone lives happily ever after, right?
We still have to endure the entire movie! And it’s an endurance test, to be sure.
Director, Roger Donaldson, has crafted a film that takes no chances. Every plot point and set piece is recycled from some other action-thriller. The dead wife, the jilted partner, the kid who saw too much… every trope is well represented. Perhaps this is just a case of The November Man showing its Cold War roots, but this material doesn’t translate well to the modern world. Worse still, all the action is staged for maximum boredom. Foot chases conclude with characters wandering aimlessly around parking lots. The possible standoff between Mason and Devereaux fizzles because Mason is more of an incompetent pawn than a worthy adversary. When we finally reach the ‘exciting’ conclusion, Brosnan is just standing around waiting for other characters to decide his fate. It’s as if Donaldson had no idea how to construct a proper action sequence.
This is due, largely, to a pedestrian script by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek. Apparently, no one thought it necessary to create characters with compelling objectives. Instead, the script introduces a series of lackluster MacGuffins to keep the characters motivated and the plot moving forward. Otherwise, we know nothing about these people and have no reason to care what happens to them. What’s more, the entire story is predicated upon plot contrivances. Are you being chased through a bus terminal and need a shovel to hit someone in the face? You got it! You need a sexy neighbor to magically appear for a hostage standoff? No problem! And forget about subtext; there’s apparently no need to augment the material with deeper meaning. Even the cheesiest, most cynical Michael Bay fiasco attempts to have a theme. When your movie is lazier than a Transformers movie, it’s time to take a long look in the mirror.
Pierce Brosnan is a talented actor who lends instant credibility to every part he plays. He brings a likeability to even the dirtiest of scoundrels (as evidenced by his role in the wonderful Bond deconstruction, The Matador). His talents and legacy, however, are completely wasted on a middling film like The November Man. At least he didn’t have to surf any icebergs this time around.