Pierce Brosnan gets to relive his James Bond glory days in Roger Donaldson’s “The November Man,” as Peter Devereaux, a former CIA operative who’s called out of retirement for one last mission. And it’s fun to see the 61-year-old actor play the part of the seasoned professional, outsmarting government agents and bad guys — sometimes the two overlap — while kicking butt with ease. Unfortunately, Brosnan is let down by a screenplay that’s too by-the-book and convoluted.
Based on Bill Granger’s book “There Are No Spies,” with a script by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek, most of the movie’s action takes place in the city of Belgrade, Serbia. Its entire police department appears to have taken a vacation while the events in the picture unfold, and the pedestrians may as well be cardboard cutouts. Normally, this lack of interaction between the environment, central characters and events wouldn’t be a big problem, but everything in “The November Man” feels too familiar. Donaldson simply mixes in too many familiar ingredients, resulting in a movie that probably thinks it’s being clever and complex when it’s bloated and muddled instead.
The strongest aspect of “The November Man” is the rivalry between Peter and young agent Mason (Luke Bracey), a former pupil of Peter’s. After Peter is reactivated by his former boss, Hanley (Bill Smitrovich), and things go south, Mason chases Peter around the crowded Belgrade streets. While not great, the master/apprentice dynamic between Bracey and Brosnan is engaging, and it’s entertaining to watch Brosnan gain the upper hand at nearly every turn. Had it just been about the rivalry, “The November Man” could have been, at the very least, a decent action/thriller. But Donaldson insists on adding in familiar contrivances to try to complicate things.
Peter must protect a young social worker, Alice (Olga Kurylenko), who has some important information on the Russian president-elect’s malevolent past. A Russian female assassin that’s hired to kill Alice disappears and reappears sporadically throughout the picture, and toward the end, Peter’s 12-year-old daughter is brought into the mix, as well. The daughter strand is a particularly lazy attempt to raise the stakes late in the game, as the character is nearly robotic.
All of these twists and turns that take place aren’t very surprising, and the final mysteries involving Alice’s true identity and who the real antagonists are can be seen from a mile away.
There are already plans to make a sequel, which makes sense, considering the movie concludes with a number of loose ends. Assuming the audience will be entertained enough by the first installment to want another one before the first one even comes out is risky. Brosnan’s charm certainly makes “The November Man” watchable, but it’s not compelling or original enough to generate much interest in a sequel.