After three and out as 007, Pierce Brosnan returns to the spy world with The November Man.
Just don’t confuse Brosnan’s ex-CIA agent Devereaux with James Bond.
This ruthless and remorseless trained killer prefers bourbon to martinis, F-bombs to one-liners, and eschews female companionship — no matter how brief the affair may be — for fear any attachment could be used against him.
“You feel the need for a relationship,” Devereaux reprimands his young protege Mason for hooking up with a young woman, “get a dog.”
At 61, Brosnan is a bit grayer but no less buff than his Bond days, physical traits well suited to play the retired agent haunted by the tragedy surrounding his final mission, yet willing and quite able to return to that dangerous world when called upon by his former boss, Hanley (Bill Smitrovich).
Devereaux’s directive is to rescue a former Russian agent named Celia (Caterina Scorsone) before the country’s soon-to-be-elected president, Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski), has her killed by a highly trained assassin (Amila Terzimehic) who’s been busy offing other former Russian spies.
Celia apparently has the goods on Federov, and Devereaux’s difficult job of getting her out of Russia alive is made all the more complicated when Mason (Luke Bracey) shows up with other CIA agents.
But The November Man’s twists are only beginning, as its complicated plot involving politics, power, and revenge sends Devereaux on a frantic new mission to find a young woman named Alice Fournier in Eastern Europe (Olga Kurylenko) and protect her from Mason and the Russian assassin.
For much of the film, Devereaux works to uncover Alice’s connection to Federov, while learning just how many enemies she has and who can and can’t be trusted to help him.
But the secondary plot — his relationship with Mason — is never far removed, as the teacher and student play cat-and-mouse, using their knowledge of each other’s weaknesses as an advantage. That there’s a third spy — the Russian assassin — as a threat only adds to the intrigue.
Directed by Roger Donaldson.
Screenplay by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek, based on a novel by Bill Granger.
A Relativity Media release, playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons.
Rated R for strong violence including a sexual assault, language, sexuality/nudity, and brief drug use.
Running time: 108 minutes.
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Olga Kurylenko, Luke Bracey, Bill Smitrovich, Will Patton, Caterina Scorsone.
The November Man is a Brosnan project all the way, as the actor spent years developing the 1987 novel There Are No Spies, the seventh book in Bill Granger’s The November Man spy-thriller series, into a film.
Whether intentional or not, Devereaux is a showcase of what could have been with the 007 franchise had Brosnan been kept to play the Bond iteration of a grittier and more dangerous real-world spy. It’s a pleasant surprise to see that Brosnan could’ve carried Bond into that character evolution, which has been well handled by Daniel Craig.
Before seeing The November Man, I wouldn’t have thought that possible, frankly, such are the memories of Brosnan’s suave British super spy, who often appeared better skilled at verbally mocking an opponent than killing him. But Devereaux utters no witty lines, and is far more comfortable eliminating the opposition than he is in taunting them, and Brosnan is convincing in doing it.
Devereaux’s chief adversary Mason, however, is mostly one step too slow, especially for the CIA’s new star agent. He’s less of a match for The November Man than he is a nuisance, one who learned from the teacher but who never fully mastered the material.
The November Man was directed by Roger Donaldson, who also directed Brosnan in 1997’s volcano disaster film Dante’s Inferno. Donaldson, whose credits include the Kevin Costner’s political thriller No Way Out in 1987 and his Cuban Missile Crisis drama Thirteen Days in 2000, is one of those steady but never flashy directors who is as good as his source material.
With The November Man Donaldson’s got a good story, and he does his best not to get in the way of it, delivering a series of competent but hardly spectacular action sequences — killings, chases, fights, more chases — that are chapter breaks in the heavy-duty plot.
As with the pacing of No Way Out, Donaldson’s The November Man rockets along, which helps to prevent audience doubt about glaring gaps in story logic and character decisions. For instance, why does a master Russian assassin not do more to disguise herself after her identity has been compromised by an intended target?
As for the script, screenwriters Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek faced challenges in updating the 1987 novel to present-day politics and situations. Instead of Cold War-era USSR, they go for the new Cold War of a Putin-like Russian leader. But Federov is less dangerous as he is politically motivated and is rather careless about his personal safety, including ineffective, feeble, and not very particularly bright agents assigned to protect him.
But that only makes Devereaux’s job — and Brosnan’s — that much easier.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.