“The November Man,” a new spy thriller starring former 007 Pierce Brosnan, is standing very much in the shadow of a popular spy movie franchise, but it isn’t James Bond this movie is imitating. From the eastern European locations to Marco Beltrami’s score, “The November Man” has a major case of Bourne envy. It doesn’t really have the budget for the gigantic, action set pieces that are one of the hallmarks of the Bourne movies, and so director Roger Donaldson ups the ante on the violence, which is the primary reason for the movie’s well-deserved R rating.
Insofar as imitating other franchises is concerned, more’s the pity. Donaldson directed the iconic eighties Cold War thriller “No Way Out,” and shouldn’t have to imitate anybody. (He also previously directed Brosnan in the disaster movie “Dante’s Peak.”) But for better or worse, “The November Man,” which is based on Bill Granger’s “November Man” novel “There Are No Spies,” trades heavily in spy movie clichés.
Brosnan (who is also an executive producer on the movie) plays Peter Devereaux, a CIA assassin who’s hung up his guns after his protegé (Luke Bracey) accidentally shoots a young boy during an op. He’s dragged back into the saddle when a Russian general’s political bid coincides with a parade of colleagues suddenly turning up dead, and the next likely victim makes it personal for Devereaux.
The parallel between the modern hired assassin and old west gunslingers has been done before, as recently as the George Clooney vehicle “The American,” and screenwriters Michael Finch (“Predators”) and Karl Gajdusek (“Oblivion”) don’t try to hide it here. Even more obvious is the looming confrontation between Devereaux and his former protegé, a plot device that’s been old hat since Charles Bronson and Jan Michael Vincent did it back in “The Mechanic.” The filmmakers would like us to believe that no one can be trusted in this movie, and as most fans of spy fiction know, generally in these stories no one CAN be trusted. Oddly, the one glimmer of originality here is that some characters either can, or will have late changes of heart. You’ll likely be able to spot these, however.
Brosnan, at sixty, looks great and has no difficulty convincing the audience that he’s a bad ass. The character is supposed to be American, and no accommodation is made for Brosnan’s Irish accent. Probably just as well. Few will notice. Aussie hunk Bracey, who was in “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” actually does sound convincingly American. You do have to wonder about the odds of two assassins this ridiculously handsome popping up at the same time on any operation.
Olga Kurylenko, who co-starred in “Oblivion” and the Daniel Craig Bond movie "Quantum of Solace," is affecting as a woman of mystery whose past turns out to have a lot to do with the mayhem at hand. Will Patton, as a CIA suit, is effective, but had far more to do in Donaldson’s “No Way Out.” TV and feature character actor Bill Smitrovich, who plays the handler who brings Devereaux out of retirement, has been very busy lately because he’s very good. He’s a scene-stealer here.
Everyone involved in this is busy. Donaldson has been announced to helm “Icarus Factor,” a new thriller that sounds like it ought to be a Robert Ludlum title but is apparently an original screenplay. Brosnan is rumored to be appearing in the next “Expendables” movie. Bracey is currently shooting the remake of “Point Break,” playing the Keanu Reeves role.
“The November Man” tries to keep too many balls in the air for its own good, and frequently runs the risk of confusing the audience while not building enough momentum. The bloody action scenes occur at regular enough intervals to keep everyone awake, and most of it makes sense by the end credits. The plot never quite musters the cerebrality of a John LeCarré novel, and the action isn’t big enough for Bond or Bourne. “The November Man” is serviceable, but ultimately not quite the name brand.