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Worth A Look43.75%
Pretty Bad: 6.25%
Total Crap: 6.25%

2 reviews, 4 user ratings

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November Man, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Pierce Brosnan finds the spy role he's meant to play."
3 stars

"The November Man" is, at times, an impressively taut spy thriller, clearly owing a debt to James Bond even if you put star Pierce Brosnan aside, though it plays up the murky, cynical aspects much better. But while it's pretty good, it's also a movie where the title can seem unclear even after someone has a line that starts with "we called you 'the November man' because". The filmmakers tends to use ambiguity for good more often than bad, and that's the line between an enjoyably nasty thriller and a potential classic of the genre.

Five years ago, CIA operative Peter Devereaux (Brosnan) retired after after an operation he and protege Mason (Luke Bracey) carried out had an ugly ending despite being technically successful. There's always one last job, though, and in this case it's extracting Natalia Ulanova (Mediha Musliovic), a source he developed in Moscow years ago who has explosive information on Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski), expected to be the next president of Russia, at the behest of old friend Hanley (Bill Smitrovich). The operation is another mess, and soon Devereaux is back in Belgrade with Mason hunting him on behalf of sinister CIA official Perry Weinstein (Will Patton), Federov's assassin Alexa (Amila Terzimehic) trying to erase everyone who knows the details of his past, and everybody trying to get local caseworker Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko) to help find Mira Filipova (Nina Mrdja), the Chechen refugee who can burst everything wide open.

It's not the most complex spy story ever seen, but it is one with a lot of elements in play, so it's genuinely impressive how well director Roger Donaldson and the writers tell the story via action. That doesn't necessarily always mean violence or that people never talk to each other, but Donaldson and company seldom stop the characters actually doing things to stage a fight that's all spectacle or explain the situation to the audience. Everyone's skills, attitudes, and next steps are easy to pick up from what they're doing and how. It's something very gratifying to see in an action movie, and even when a scene is just people talking, there's push and pull so that there's still a feeling of motion. There aren't necessarily a lot of show-stopping "this must have been an expensive logistical nightmare to film" scenes, but there is a steady stream of good chases and shootouts, enough to say something about Devereaux and Mason.

That much of the movie is so snappy makes the bits where things get kind of sloppy a little more jarring. Two in particular stand out - the opening sequence could stand to clear up just whose bullet hit which person, while a scene of Mason's neighbor flirting with him that I initially thought took place in Moscow must actually be in Belgrade. Neither is a killer, but they stick out for how they compare to the rest of the movie's clarity. The script also goes out of its way to Make Things Personal for a climax that seems tacked onto the last half hour by someone who missed the point about characters being frighteningly amoral.

That Pierce Brosnan's Devereaux is placed in the hero's role makes his take on this the most important, especially since folks are inevitably going to look at the character as James Bond plus twenty years. It's a very good performance however you look at it, with great physical efficiency in the action scenes that still shows signs of wear and tear, along with a superficial charm stretched tight over a pragmatic and abrasive core throughout. Brosnan does the neat trick of presenting the good man made weary and callous by the world that we want and expect from this character and then pouncing on the moments which imply that he was always kind of a monster and being a secret agent was just about putting it to productive use. Poor Luke Bracey can't fully answer that and tends to get pushed off the screen as a result. It's a similar story with the older CIA veterans - Will Patton draws the reptilian, policy-driven high-level spook and does a fair job with it, but he's never able to draw the audience's interest the way Bill Smitrovich can as Hanley, who may be a sexist jackass, but is also entertainingly blunt and occasionally even funny.

That's the guys, and while there is probably a fair amount of truth to these characters' world being populated in large part by sexist alpha males, it is kind of frustrating to see how the film introduces a fair-sized roster of women who seem intelligent and capable only to diminish them in various ways, whether it be lamely sexist insults or Alice's big scene of pitching in involving dressing as a hooker. To Olga Kurylenko's credit, she not only wears the heck out of that dress but plays those scenes with a tension that is heightened beyond the generic potential target she's playing for much of the movie. Meanwhile, Amila Terzimehic barely speaks as the assassin sent after Federov's enemies, but she's got a great, dangerous presence; she's the one who belongs in the same world as the boys and it would have been great to see more of her as an adversary.

There's a lot about "The November Man" that could have been great but winds up being quite good instead, and few of its missteps are actually damaging. It's actually a decent choice for a decent action movie that is well-executed but not overwhelming, much better than many of its peers, if not quite up to its potential.

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originally posted: 08/30/14 08:03:43
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User Comments

12/21/14 mr.mike Better than I expected. 4 stars
9/08/14 The Big D *SPOILER*I HATE liberal spy movies where the American establishment turns out to be corrupt 1 stars
9/03/14 amy tolley was okay 3 stars
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  27-Aug-2014 (R)
  DVD: 25-Nov-2014


  DVD: 25-Nov-2014

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