With Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Bill Smitrovich, Will Patton. Written by Michael Finch & Karl Gajdusek. Directed by Roger Donaldson. Rated R for strong violence including a sexual assault, language, sexuality/nudity and brief drug use. 108 minutes.
We don’t really expect much of releases during the last week of the summer movie season, which ends this Labor Day weekend. So THE NOVEMBER MAN– not to be confused with the abysmal 1989 victim-of-the-Writers’-strike turkey “The January Man”–is an unexpected surprise. It’s got suspense, a complex spy thriller plot, and some top-notch action, and it is surprisingly entertaining.
It opens with Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan), a veteran spy, giving pointers to Mason (Luke Bracey), his protégé. Things don’t work out exactly as planned. Jump to the present where Mason is now a trusted CIA agent and Devereaux is retired and living in Switzerland. Devereaux is visited by Hanley (Bill Smitrovich), an old colleague, and asked to come out of retirement to help a Russian double agent defect. She is close to the next president of Russia and has a key name that will compromise him. Things soon go awry.
To reveal much more of the plot would be to give too much away. Suffice to say that Devereaux and Mason find themselves on opposite sides, with Devereaux still playing the teacher. When a young woman (Olga Kurylenko) who may have known a key figure emerges, the action is fully in play. Working at cross purposes are Devereaux, a Russian assassin, a CIA team led by Mason and being ordered by the shifty Weinstein (Will Patton), and Hanley, whose own motives become clear only late in the film.
Based on a novel by Bill Granger (and given a lame title change that gets explained very late in the film) you might think to give this a miss. However, if you enjoy spy stories filled with plots and counterplots and betrayals, this is exactly your speed. It’s not quite John le Carré territory, but it recognizes espionage as a profession built upon lies and duplicity. If you’re lying to everyone you meet, how can you assume anyone is telling you the truth?
Director Roger Donaldson keeps the action moving at a steady clip. If you’re not paying attention, you may find the story hard to follow, but as long as you stick with Brosnan’s Devereaux you should be in good shape. Brosnan also served as the film’s executive producer and clearly was looking for a vehicle that would showcase his talents. The former James Bond doesn’t engage in cheeky quips, rather, he’s full of irony and ready to inflict extreme violence if that’s what it takes to get the job done.
The movie was shot on location in Serbia and Montenegro. This undoubtedly saved the production money, but it also means that the film doesn’t look like every other film and makes good use of locations that haven’t been done to death in other movies. While they may have saved money shooting abroad, they did not scrimp on the script or the cast or the director, and the result is a very slick film. Brosnan has his best role since 2005’s “Matador” (another film from his production company), and the supporting players are exceptional, particularly Kurylenko and Smitrovich.
“The November Man” is not a deep-dish spy movie, nor is it something that will be remembered at Oscar time. It’s significant because one’s expectations for the releases just before Labor Day is that they are trash being swept out the door by the studios. Instead, what we get here is a very entertaining film and one that will be enjoyed long after it has left the theaters.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.