MOVIE REVIEW: The November Man
Tougher than Steele! Better than Bond. Brains over gadgets. It's Brosnan, Pierce Brosnan, as THE NOVEMBER MAN. At the top of his game, Brosnan engages and entices with a mature intelligent sexiness that will have you begging for a film franchise based on the book series. Bringing a seasoned meld of action and psychological intrigue that only comes with experience and maturity, THE NOVEMBER MAN is a riveting edge of your seat thriller!
It's 2008. Montenegro. CIA operative Peter Devereaux and his protege David Mason are trying to thwart an assassination attempt.. Hot-headed and not inclined to follow orders, Mason makes a tragic mistake during the operation; a mistake that leaves a child dead. Mason is anything but pleased when reprimanded by Devereaux, while Devereaux himself is shaken to the core over the child's death.
Fast forward five years and we find Devereaux happily retired, living a simple and beautiful life in pastoral Switzerland when called back into the field by his old boss Hanley for a top secret extraction of undercover operative Natalia in Moscow, a woman whose life is now in danger having uncovered a conspiracy involving the new Russian President, Federov. But something goes terribly wrong with the extraction and Natalia is killed - by Mason (who somehow managed to rise about his prior failures to become the CIA poster child). What Mason doesn't realize is that by killing Natalia, he just became a target for Devereaux who will stop at nothing to avenge Natalia's death. But why? What makes Natalia more than just collateral damage?
Off the grid and gone rogue, Devereaux becomes embroiled in a cat and mouse game with Mason as each tries to not only beat the other to learn what Natalia had uncovered, but to kill the other. Mason has been ordered to kill Devereaux while Devereaux seeks revenge. But Mason seems to forget the old adage of mentors - "I may have taught you all you know, but I didn't teach you all that I know."
As secrets emerge, red herrings fuel the intrigue, and a geopolitical nightmare unfolds involving sex trafficking, war refugees and possible US involvement in the first Chechen War, all destined to come crashing down on Federov and/or the unknown player behind the scenes, with everything linked to a woman named Alice Fournier, a woman who is now at Devereaux's side.
Pierce Brosnan was tailor made for Peter Devereaux. Also producing the film, Brosnan recalls, "[A]fter my four outings as James Bond, there seemed to be unfinished business. And the way that the Bond finished in my life and the demise of Bond going off stage left into the night, it seemed like there was a certain void there. . .There was a desire, a want, and a need to make this film, THE NOVEMBER MAN." Enamored from the start by the title finding "it has a sensuality and a mystique to it" it was the writing of Bill Granger that had "a complexity of character and a punch and a grit to it which gave me the opportunity to take the gloves off and be hard as nails and be ambivalent in my moral values as a character. There was a complexity there which was seductive and enticing." And enticing is exactly what Brosnan is, bringing his well known personas of James Bond and Remington Steele together for a seasoned, burnished performance that sizzles with determination, focus and "workman-like attitude" yet grounded with a humanity while still steeped in action (although many of the trickier action sequences were executed by Brosnan's stunt double Mark Mottram).
Luke Bracey, while physically embodying a CIA special ops field guy, and delivering an emotionally detached, rigid and icy performance as Mason, doesn't quite feel like he's comfortable in the role. There's an uneasiness that comes across on screen, like a kid trying on dad's suit that two sizes too big.
Olga Kurylenko is standout as Serbian social worker Alice Fournier. With beauty and brains, Kurylenko adds an earnest softness to the overall film serving as a nice counterpoint to the emotionless Mason and steely Devereaux. Interesting is Will Patton who, as CIA official Weinstein, walks a tightrope as to which side of the fence he's on. As Hanley, Bill Smitrovich has an almost visceral ferocity, something we haven't seen from him before.
Written by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek, THE NOVEMBER MAN is as timely now as it was when Granger wrote "There Are No Spies", book #7 in THE NOVEMBER MAN series back in 1986. Although the "Cold War" themes of the book may seem irrelevant on the surface today, as Brosnan notes, "The serendipitous scenario we find ourselves in now with the geopolitical state of affairs with Russia seems to be a sweet irony for us as filmmakers with THE NOVEMBER MAN" as history, in many respects, is repeating itself. Finch and Gajdusek make appropriate temporal adjustments to accommodate long-buried secrets between the Russians and the CIA and excel with the complexities of the Devereaux-Mason dynamic that go beyond mentor-mentee as well as all the requisite espionage tropes and cliches, and a gorgeous woman to die for. Notable is a thematic element of moral duality within each character which plays into the "whodunit" espionage scenario.
With all of "The November Man" books from which to choose as an adaptation and a vehicle for a mature seasoned Brosnan, why "There Are No Spies"? According to St. Clair, "The kernel of the idea was when Pierce was doing the Bonds. He always talked about the exploration of that character and what made him tick. And so, after the Bonds, I thought it would be a big challenge, but maybe we could find a character that was a character Pierce could play in that genre that he could inhabit in the way he wanted to do before. Dino Conte, who was an old-time producer, had mentioned "The November Man" books. I went back and I read all of them, and the one, "There Are No Spies," was for me a really good way to insert Pierce back into this world when he'd done this role professionally. But it's also a character and a story."
Director Roger Donaldson, reteaming with his "Dante's Peak" star, Brosnan, excels at the interplay of espionage and red herrings, keeping us on our toes with plot points and twists and turns while dazzling with some well-timed action sequences. For Donaldson, "The idea of doing a political thriller in Europe appealed to me. . .I saw the potential in it. I felt like I could bring something to the table that was challenging for me personally." He achieved his goal as key to THE NOVEMBER MAN is that this isn't about all the gadgets and goodies that Brosnan had when playing James Bond, this is about Devereaux using his smarts and whatever is at arm's reach to aid him.
Visually appealing is that although Donaldson and cinematographer Romain Lacourbaj shot digitally, they used anamorphic lenses that provide the softened cinematic textures of the 70's. Filming on location in Belgrade amidst the local markets and vendors and local residents riding trams, trains and walking on streets, provides a tonal sense of stripped down realism. And yes! Those are real drones not only used in the film, but used for some of the film footage. Fueling the rapid pace is the work of editor John Gilbert who escalates the tension with well-timed edits.
Disappointing is Marco Beltrami's scoring which is often too heavy and too loud in its composition, tending to overshadow the intensity and intrigue of the plot twists and turns.
It's Brosnan, Pierce Brosnan. He's back in fighting form and better than ever as THE NOVEMBER MAN.
Directed by Roger Donaldson
Written by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek adapted from the novel by Bill Granger, "There Are No Spies"
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Olga Kurylenko, Luke Bracey, Bill Smitrovich, Will Patton