Based on the spy novel There Are No Spies, the seventh in author Bill Granger’s November Man thrillers, The November Man is a story populated by reprehensible people continually doing awful things to other people under the guise that it’s all for the greater good while sacrificing an untold number of innocents in order to achieve it.
Pierce Brosnan – still looking good post James Bond while holding a gun – is Peter Devereaux, an ex-CIA agent in retirement who is pulled back into the game to protect Alice (Olga Kurylenko), an important witness to an atrocious event of the past that could possibly change the future of east/west relations. The problem is, there are powerful people who want her dead and they’re not necessarily from the east.
You can usually tell when a film, particularly a spy thriller, is adapted from a novel rather than an original screenplay; the story tends to be more complex with extra layers of murk not always making sense until the end when things will hopefully fall into place. The November Man is one of them, but it’s more than just the plot that confuses. Character motivations and actions are at odds with what you think you know. Good guys come across a sociopaths as much as the bad guys; they’re killers trained to follow orders without question, even if it means carrying out atrocities against the innocent. Despite being the good guy, Devreaux is among them. “You can be a human or a killer of humans,” he states. “You can’t be both.”
While it’s good to see Brosnan back in the spy business, The November Man has nothing to do with the playful fantasy of a Bond adventure. Devereaux exists in a world based on a reality that nasty things are always afoot somewhere in the world and the only way to fight them is to be and act like your enemies. The end result is that a life led by man like Devereaux is no life at all. “You need a relationship?” Devereaux asks a young agent during the opening moments. “Get a dog.”
Confusion kicks in early when you start wondering why Devereaux’s character is even there. He’s retired, so exactly why is he involved? You’re never quite sure. Plus, it doesn’t help when he explains to the young woman he’s trying to protect that, “No one can hide forever,” only to later give her some cash and tell her to hide where no one find can find you. And what happened to the nice young woman called Sarah (Eliza Taylor) who has her femoral artery slashed by Devreaux so that he can make a quick escape. She’s rushed to the hospital in pain and tears while blood gushes from her leg only to never be seen or heard from again. Did she live? And if she did, did she ever explain to the authorities who did this to her and why? We never know. Like many of the bystanders who pay a deadly cost for simply being in the wrong place at the right time, she’s dispensed with.
Director Roger Donaldson handles the action sequences well. There are no over-the-top set pieces that stretch credulity to its limits – after all, this is supposed to be somewhat reality based – but the car chases, the street fights, the pursuits through shops and stores and hotel lobbies are all executed with a taut grip that excites, even if you’re not always sure why anyone is doing what they’re doing.
Brosnan has already announced that a sequel is in the works. The thought of seeing him again with gun in hand is certainly welcomed, but fingers crossed that the follow-up has a plot presented with a lot more clarity.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 108 Minutes Overall Rating: 6 (out of 10)