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Review: The November Man

August 27, 2014

By John Corrado

★ (out of 4)

The November Man Poster

The return of Pierce Brosnan as an action star, in a spy movie no less, could have been reason for excitement.  But unfortunately one merely has to look at the late August release date to judge the overall quality of The November Man, a film that left me more tired than entertained.

This simply isn’t a very good movie, a routine and plodding thriller that uses the old cliche of a retired agent’s “one last mission” to tell a bleak and sometimes disturbingly violent story that boarders on exploitative.  For those still interested, The November Man opens today, courtesy of VVS Films.

I screened The November Man about three weeks ago, and still for the life of me can’t put together a coherent description of the plot, so I will just stick to the absolute basics.  Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) is a retired agent who gets back into the game when he becomes the target of David Mason (Luke Bracey), a newbie who used to be his protégé.  This involves protecting vulnerable witness Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko), and something to do with the Russian government.

By this point I think it’s already clear that I wasn’t a fan of The November Man.  But there is a lot more to talk about than just the knee-jerk reaction of my star rating, like why I don’t think the film works and for precisely what reasons.  The character development is barely surface deep, with the dialogue serviceable at best and the most memorable lines being of the unintentionally laughable variety.  The camerawork is also nothing special, often framed at odd angles with some tacky slow motion bits to accentuate the gory sprays of bright red blood.

This is nothing we haven’t seen before, and The November Man feels like a thoroughly by the numbers affair, as if this was a series of scenes strung together through a checklist.  We get the usual images of agents sharing information and graphic evidence photos while sitting at cafes where they are shocked when someone else is watching them, and people sitting in dark rooms using advanced computers to get a visual on the suspect.  This is all matched by a typically overbearing musical score.

Director Roger Donaldson awkwardly seems to end the film after barely ninety minutes, only to tack on an extra fifteen that feel like an attempt to copy Liam Neeson’s Taken with the pointless introduction of Devereaux’s daughter, before resolving the initial conflict in the few seconds before the credits.  Although Pierce Brosnan proves that he can still handle action scenes with a certain calculated coolness, and Olga Kurylenko is a fine supporting player, the rest of the cast ranges from mediocre to just plain campy.

The editing feels choppy and rote, and when the story tries to be politically relevant by using the human trafficking of young girls into the sex trade as a major plot point, things start to feel exploitive.  There is a physically uncomfortable flashback to a scene of abuse and rape, that is awkwardly framed in a way that feels like trashy pulp.  I have no problem with a thriller that introduces real issues, but everything else about The November Man feels like dumb throwaway entertainment, that these shifts into brutality just seem really off.

This is a film with an identity crisis, on the one hand trying to be another mindless action flick, while on the other trying hard to be politically relevant.  But The November Man isn’t having enough fun to work as the former, while at the same time not being serious enough to really succeed as the latter.  This is a film that kills a kid within the opening minutes and casually uses rape as a plot point, while still trying to provide late summer entertainment, and something about that just didn’t sit right with me.

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