"The November Man" brings former James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan back into the limelight. Critics had said Brosnan was getting too old to be Bond, but Liam Neeson, who is of a similar age, has been kicking cinematic ass for the past five years ("Taken," "Taken 2," "Non-Stop") and filling up movie theaters. This film is too conflicted to grant Brosnan a box office triumph, but it definitely proves that he hasn't lost his touch.
To set the stage, the film starts in 2008 in Montenegro, where CIA agent Peter Devereaux (Brosnan) and junior agent David Mason (Luke Bracey) are trying to prevent an assassination. Although that portion of the mission was successful, Mason disobeys Devereaux's orders, causing a young bystander to be killed. Shortly afterward, Devereaux retires to manage a cafe on the shores of Lake Geneva.
Skip forward to 2013, when Devereaux's former handler swoops in to give him a personal mission. He jets off to Moscow to participate in high-speed car chases and shoot some bad guys, and then he hops on a plane to Belgrade, Serbia, to uncover the truth behind a CIA conspiracy and protect Alice Fournier (Bond girl Olga Kurylenko) while Mason — and the rest of the CIA — tries to stop him.
The Devereaux character is from the "November Man" book series from the 1980s, and it feels like the movie's sensibilities are still rooted in that era. There's the requisite trip to an informant who runs a strip joint. A CIA authority figure calls his female subordinate by the name of "Tits." The protagonist is a hard-drinking man who preaches that you shouldn't form attachments to other people. The characters are trying to be hard, macho men who spout lines that sound forced when anyone other than Bruce Willis is uttering them. (One of the lines even sounds like something that Willis says in "The Last Boy Scout.")
At the same time, the film tries to initiate some introspection. Devereaux tries to get his former pupil to understand that when you kill people for a living, it eats away at your soul and makes you less human. The movie briefly touches upon subplots about war, government distrust, the world's love affair with crude oil, and sexual assault. It's an odd and uncomfortable juxtaposition as you're watching Devereaux stick out his middle finger and tell Mason to "Sit on this and spin."
Brosnan and Kurylenko are the only recognizable names in the cast, and they're also the only ones with any screen presence. There are a couple of character actors, and the rest of the roster consists of fresh faces. Most of the actors do well enough, but a couple of casting choices were questionable. Brosnan was more of a hands-off kind of Bond, so it's impressive to see that he really shines in the action sequences. In that respect, this seems to be the perfect vehicle to prove that the Bond franchise was wrong to move on without him, but it's off-putting to hear such crass lines coming from someone who looks as refined as he does. Kurylenko does a great job in some of the more emotionally charged scenes.
What really hurts "The November Man" is that it can't quite decide what it wants to be. Does it want to be flippant or serious? It's not sure, so how can the audience know? The movie has a tendency to add and drop stuff midstream for no good reason. A minor character is introduced, used as a lesson, and seriously injured — all in the first half of the film. Then she's never heard from or mentioned again. The film could've ended a few minutes earlier, but an unnecessary subplot that's reminiscent of "Taken" is tacked on to the end. Mason can't decide whether to believe or assassinate Devereaux, and he struggles with the choice before arriving at a decision, though no rationale is given, so the audience doesn't know what finally swayed him.
Although it's great to see Brosnan back on the big screen in an action film, "The November Man" could've been better. The action is good, but the screenplay could've been updated so it doesn't feel like it's from a bygone era. It's a fine popcorn flick, but there's no need to rush out and see it.
"The November Man" is rated "R" and has a running time of 1 hour and 48 minutes. It's showing in 2-D.
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