It must be difficult for Pierce Brosnan: He’s a suave, handsome, debonair Irishman genetically engineered to play the world’s most famous super-spy—James Bond. He very famously lost out on the role of 007 in the ‘80s because NBC wouldn’t let him out of his contract for the low-rated private-eye series “Remington Steele.” That grievous contractual obligation gave us two lackluster Bond films starring Timothy Dalton. I’m guessing anyone born after 1980 has no idea what “Remington Steele” is or who Timothy Dalton is. Try Wikipedia.
In the ‘90s Brosnan finally got the role of James Bond and starred in the most excellent “GoldenEye” (1995). The promise of Brosnan as Bond was fulfilled. Unfortunately, all that goodwill was squalled on three dialed-in installments that continued to get more and more ridiculous.
There always has been a certain level of campiness to the adventures of 007, but Hollywood was entering a phase wherein blockbusters had to be grounded, gritty, and feature shaky, difficult-to-follow camera work. So Brosnan was replaced by Daniel Craig, who ushered in the most popular era of James Bond since Sean Connery first drank a shaken-not-stirred martini in the ‘60s.
Now Brosnan is a charming brogue who received the role of a lifetime, but who’s still perceived as being one of the “soft” Bonds. He’s a Bond who played with laser pens and invisible cars instead of dealing with real, human drama.
“The November Man” feels like Brosnan dipping his toes back into the espionage waters as he tackles dark, wetwork-inspired material he never got to do while bedding Halle Berry or pretending that Denise Richards was a nuclear physicist. “The November Man” attempts to channel a Tom Clancy approach to the cloak-and-dagger material.
Devereaux (Brosnan) is a no-nonsense CIA agent who mentors Mason (Luke Bracey), a protégé with a short fuse. Mason is young, motivated and impulsive. He disobeys an order while trying to save Devereaux, which results in the death of a young boy. In the aftermath, Devereaux decides to leave the agency. Since this is an espionage thriller, he has to be brought back because no one wants to pay $8 to see a CIA agent give up his career and play shuffleboard for two hours unless it’s directed by Lars Von Trier.
His former handler wants him to help extract a high-profile asset from Moscow. The Cold War was the backbone of most 20 century spy stories. Tensions once again are ratcheting up. Consequently, Moscow and Russia have become the generic backyard for almost every new major spy movie.
Devereaux is instructed to extract the extremely easy-on-the-eyes Alice (Olga Kurylenko), who has pertinent data about a prominent Russian politician ascending to power. His interest in the case is more personal than professional. He and Alice have a history that involves sweat, friction and cigarettes. That’s right: They were both chain smokers who enjoyed hot yoga. The simple mission becomes diluted when Devereaux’s former protégé Mason also is sent to deal with Alice. What a twist of fate!
My biggest complaint about “The November Man” is its predictability. The plot is adequate and the performances are decent. It’s a perfectly functional thriller; however, there isn’t a moment that doesn’t feel preordained or lifted right out of the generic spy playbook. The greatest sin the movie commits is not being able to achieve anything new. I don’t expect the wheel to be reinvented or the bar to be lifted ludicrously high with every new movie, but there’s a difference between being a quality installment in a genre and being a textbook example. “The November Man” isn’t a bad film, but it falls into the latter category.
There was a time when tense espionage thrillers packed a little more punch. This is Brosnan trying to do a more hard-nosed version of an espionage film—the kind he never got to do as Bond. Unfortunately, “The November Man” proves equally thin.
The November Man
Starring Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey and Olga Kurylenko
Directed by Roger Donaldson