28 August 2014 | moviexclusive
The plotting does stumble towards the end, but this old-school spy thriller has enough twists, action and most importantly, an ace in former 007 star Pierce Brosnan
It's not hard to see why Pierce Brosnan had, for a couple of years, tried to get this film made; despite being a perfectly capable dramatic actor, it is his time as James Bond that people remember most fondly about the 61-year-old Irish actor, so it is no wonder that Brosnan would want at some point to get back into the spy game. There is pedigree and potential here too - the character is the protagonist of novelist Bill Granger's 1980s Peter Devereaux series, and if this movie adapted from the seventh book of that series hits paydirt, there are always many other books on which a franchise could be built.
Thankfully for Brosnan, who also produces the movie through his Irish Dreamtime company, 'November Man' is a sturdy enough thriller that could be the start of several such mid-budget European-set sequels to come. Gone are the gadgets, the girls and the quips that were a centrepiece of Brosnan's 007 days though - Brosnan's Devereaux is the kind of gritty spy Daniel Craig fashioned the 007 character after Brosnan departed, a no-nonsense CIA man at the top of his game who retired after a mission gone wrong with his protégé, David Mason (Australian actor Luke Bracey).
Devereaux is pulled back into the field when his former handler from Langley, a hawk-eyed Hanley (Bill Smitrovich), asks for his help to pull an asset out of Moscow. The woman has critical information about the future head of the Soviet Union, Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski), which the CIA would like its hands on, but Devereaux accepts only because she is also his former colleague and lover. That simple mission goes unexpectedly awry when Devereaux finds himself pitted against Mason, whose orders were not only to 'take out' the woman but also Devereaux himself. What's more, Hanley is simultaneously taken into custody by his own CIA unit, after it turns out that he had recruited Devereaux behind their backs.
As scripted by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek, the film combines a couple of familiar tropes. Here we have a teacher and his best protégé turned enemies, so that we get to see just how much of the former's skills the latter has honed into his own. We also get a spy versus the Agency, with Devereaux seemingly gone rogue against the apparently corrupted CIA establishment. And finally, we get a witness everyone is after, who as Hollywood convention dictates, happens also to look like a supermodel - that would be Alice Fournier (played by former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko) - and is protected by none other than Devereaux himself.
So far, so good - for the first hour, Roger Donaldson directs a relatively taut and tense setup that keeps you hooked at trying to figure out just who is playing who. We know Devereaux is the good guy here, but just who is everyone else? Will Mason become a cold-hearted killing machine to take out his former trainer? Is Mason's boss the one pulling the strings? What does he have to do with an operation involving Federov and a building which fell in Chechnya that precipitated the war between the two countries? And just who is this Mira whom everyone is looking for, who apparently has Federov's dirty secrets from his past as a Russian general in the Chechen war?
But after a promising start, what was a tightly plotted affair starts to go off the rails. There are a lot of revelations here, and to be fair, a somewhat twisty knot of events to unravel the truth behind the smokescreens. Yet, the scripting gets weaker by the minute - in particular, a thoroughly extraneous scene where Devereaux confronts Mason in his own apartment and decides to teach the latter a thing or two about developing affections for the opposite sex by slashing the femoral artery of his next-door neighbour/ girlfriend for no other apparent reason - and the leaps of logic get more far-fetched as Donaldson tries his darnest to keep the proceedings moving at a brisk clip until the climax.
Never a less than competent helmer, Donaldson largely succeeds, inserting some efficiently thrilling car chases, shootouts and hand-to- hand combats in between the betrayals, admissions and ultimatums. It certainly helps that Brosnan is just as sure a hand at playing a spy, slipping effortlessly into the role with charisma and lending this screen incarnation of Devereaux a dignity and poise that very few silver-haired action stars can do. Brosnan's co-stars are however forgettable, though Kurylenko proves to be a sight to behold in her own right when she puts on a short sexy dress to seduce Federov in his own hotel room.
To be sure, 'November Man' never quite comes close to the heights of Bourne, which is in a league of its own. But for less demanding audiences looking for some late-summer action, this entirely B-grade Euro-set thriller will do the trick. It's got espionage, suspense, blood, some sex (clearly trimmed here for an NC16 rating though), and most of all, Brosnan; yes, the latter is singlehandedly the best thing the film has going for it. And in turn, Brosnan gets his wish - an opportunity back into the spy game, and a pretty good one at that too.