EXPECTATIONS: "James Bond-lite," they said. "Generic spy thriller," they said. "Pierce Brosnan's audition reel for Expendables 4," somebody else probably said. No matter how you slice it, I just can't seem to muster any enthusiasm for The November Man. Hell, I didn't even know the thing existed until a week ago. I guess it's hard to market a film "From the director of Cocktail, Species and Dante's Peak."
REALITY: The November Man is an exercise in apathy. The plot is a tired mish-mash of spy thriller Mad Libs and late-90s Eastern European politics. The cast is game for whatever director Roger Donaldson throws at them, but he's so hellbent on spotlighting Pierce Brosnan that he forgets half of them are even there. And speaking of Brosnan, it becomes clear that he's the only one even halfway giving a shit about this whole enterprise. Where was this guy fifteen years ago when his own run as James Bond gracelessly flew off the rails?
"I WANT MY OLD JOB BACK!"
Making liberal use of our renewed interest in Russia as a nation of villains, The November Man stars Pierce Brosnan as retired CIA agent Peter Devereaux, who gets dragged back into action after one of his contacts is murdered. Devereaux learns that a Russian presidential candidate (Lazar Ristovski) is killing anyone with ties to his murderous past, and the next target on his list is a Serbian social worker named Alice (Olga Kurylenko). The plot thickens for no good goddamn reason, as Devereaux's former colleagues (Will Patton and Bill Smitrovich) join in the hunt for Alice, leading to a bitter showdown between Devereaux and his one-time trainee Mason (Luke Bracey).
The game of cat and mouse between Devereaux and Mason has shades of an older James Bond poking fun at his younger counterpart. Agents see Devereaux as the best in the business, no questions asked, while Mason's superiors constantly put him down as simply being "a blunt instrument." It's obvious that Mason is supposed to be a generic Daniel Craig stand-in, but the movie doesn't seem to want to push the comparison too hard. After all, mom and dad aren't paying to watch James Bond deconstruct James Bond. They just want to see James Bond do his thing. Does anyone honestly feel this way, though? Is anyone really looking back at the Brosnan era as the Good Old Days of the Bond franchise? God, I hope not.
I love doing this to elevator cameras.This reminds me of something that bugged me about Expendables 3 a couple weeks ago. The young pup takes nothing but shit from the film's heroes (and villains), even though he's perfectly capable of handling himself. Before all is said and done, it takes a thrilling display of "age before beauty" to save the day and set everything right again. Boomers love taking potshots at Millennials, but until this month I had never seen it done with such glee until the double whammy of Expendables 3 and The November Man.
I hate to belabor the point, but now that I've said it I can't get it out of my mind. The November Man feels like an entire film about how the younger generation can learn a thing or two from the old farts, even though the plot that's been laid out seems vastly more important. The global balance of power is at stake, but somebody's gotta teach Junior a lesson first! You could chalk it up to Donaldson simply having a thing for that kind of story. Look at The Recruit, for example. The November Man just seems obsessed with it, though. There's even a scene where Devereaux drops in on Mason and threatens to murder his neighbor, all in the name of teaching the guy a lesson.
"Your dad has just severed your girlfriend's femoral artery. What do you do? This is for your own good, son! I know you probably hate me right now, but trust me, you'll thank me for this when you're older!"
And you can tell that the film comes down firmly on the side of the mentor here, because The November Man revels in its R rating. Pierce Brosnan has been openly critical of his tenure as James Bond, even disappointed by his own lack of brute force. He gets to right that wrong here, shooting thugs left and right, smashing faces with any object in arm's reach and crashing as many cars as he possibly can. It's like he's making up for a decade of space lasers and remote-controlled cars by murdering everything in his path. When the action is on, The November Man becomes kind of thrilling; entertaining, even.
Just another Tuesday in Belgrade.At times, however, it becomes too much of a throwback for its own good. Along with its often brutal violence, the film doesn't really seem to know what to do with its women. Alice is given a backstory and some sense of agency, but she's quickly thrown into the same basic femme fatale role that Kurylenko played in Quantum of Solace. The others are built up for a scene or two, only to be dispatched like glorified extras. Certain characters advertise their villainy based on their attitudes toward women, so even after Devereaux nearly kills an innocent woman for no good reason, we know he's still the the good guy because he never calls anyone "Tits."
The way this film forces us into the gray areas of the spy game winds up making it difficult to grasp who is playing which side, why they're doing it, and what they're trying to achieve. We know beyond the shadow of a doubt that James Bond is the good guy. That's kind of his deal. After fifty years, we've figured out that much about him. After two hours, I don't know anything about Peter Devereaux, why I should trust him as the hero of an action franchise, or why I should even care.
|Pierce Brosnan Giving a Shit||8/10|
|Late 90s Russian Politics Redux||3/10|
|Ladies Who Get to Do Anything Useful||2/10|
MINORITY REPORT: Considering how much Pierce Brosnan looks like Ronald Reagan now, it doesn't surprise me that he'd want his spy knowledge to "tricke down." - Jordan "CloseFriend" Saïd
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