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Movie Review: 'The November Man' (2014)

Tragedy strikes during a routine operation when CIA agent David Mason (Luke Bracey) fails to follow the orders of his commander, Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan). Five years pass and Peter, now retired, is pulled back into his former espionage lifestyle when Agent Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) informs him that a spy in Serbia is ready for extraction and will only speak to Devereaux. Their rendezvous is met with heavy resistance and the double agent (Mediha Musliovic) is killed by Peter’s protégé Mason, prompting Devereaux to begin an exhaustive hunt to uncover those responsible. Gathering intelligence leads him to rescue and shadow Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko), a refugee caseworker who may hold the key to a massive international cover-up.

Accomplishing what the last couple of James Bond movies failed to do, “The November Man” immediately establishes tenseness and awe, through hardy wisecracks, brief character development, and nerve-wracking action. A credible threat on an ambassador sets the stage for a spontaneous clash of cleaners, snipers, aliases, decoys, and split second decisions that will haunt the survivors for the rest of the film. The mood is serious and the roles are severe, brilliantly introducing a world of crooked politics, dark pasts, antihero moralities, and thrilling spy maneuvers (where the Russians are bad and the CIA is even worse). The teacher battles the pupil, the hunter becomes the hunted, and Brosnan shines as a cynical, likeable, still-formidable-for-his-age killer.

Even the music starts off nicely embellishing the covert military tactics. But the longer the movie plays, the more things begin to fall apart. There’s some manipulative suspense through supporting characters undertaking risky endeavors while a clock ticks; the extraction and interception of moles leads to expected gunplay and death; and self-destruct mechanisms, steely confrontations, advanced tech, blink-of-an-eye executions, frequent location changes, and fiery explosions edge their way into scenarios that are already plenty stimulating. In general, the film engages in complex, intelligent spy games over blow-‘em-up action sequences or lengthy gun hostilities, though resorting to physical fights, car chases, and shootouts certainly aren’t absent. It’s the amusement of the storyline that gradually drifts off as revenge subplots and a completely predictable mystery of a missing girl move to the forefront. And as Alice’s interrogative dialogue serves as the audience’s information broker for Peter’s humanness, instead of merely building a believably frightened woman who is out of her element, the smartness noticeably wanes.

Still, the chase never lets up and the pacing excellently fits the convoluted happenings. Far too many intricacies pepper the mayhem, detracting from the most relevant angle of student versus trainer, but director Roger Donaldson (“The Getaway,” “The Recruit,” “The Bank Job”) manages to keep Devereaux regularly involved in gripping conflict. An unnerving Russian female assassin (Amila Terzimehic), a morbidly challenging test of resolve with a human shield (Eliza Taylor), and an abusive war-crime-committing general (Lazar Ristovski) all seem like throwaway subplots, but beneath the tangled relationships and conspiracies is Brosnan capably proving that his days as an action hero aren’t over.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)