The November Man seems to be at odds with itself. There’s a reason that the James Bond/Jason Bourne type of spy-thrillers are always rated PG-13. It’s because they’re fun action films for the teenage crowd. The November Man, starring former Bond star Pierce Brosnan, wants to be a fun action film for teenagers … but also be gritty, bloody, profane, and more “realistic.” It wants to have it both ways, and as a result kind of becomes a less interesting version of both. That’s not to say it isn’t without its share of fun, but it really needed to pick one or the other and stick with it.
Peter Devereaux (Brosnan) is our lead. He retires from the CIA in 2008 after a mission goes kind of wrong, but he’s brought back into action after someone he knows needs extraction, and she requests him. As it turns out, this is all part of a bigger plan that involves the soon-to-be president of Russia, the CIA, war crimes, and a whole host of surprises that may or may not have real life analogues. Hint: they probably do, but you’d have to know about the Chechen War to “get” them. Maybe. I sucked at history.
Most of the time, he’s with Alice (Olga Kurylenko), a social worker who handled the case of a woman, Mira Filipova, who has information that is valuable to, well, everyone. Hunting the two of them down are CIA Agent David Mason (Luke Bracey), whom Peter trained, and a Russian assassin (Amila Terzimehic), because you need just one main person to represent each side in movies like this. Both are enemies. Peter has to keep Alice safe all while trying to find this Mira person, avoiding bullets and plot twists along the way.
The majority of The November Man falls into the typical spy-thriller mold. You’ll feel like you’ve seen this movie before, even if you haven’t, simply because of how simply it plays things. It had some elements that could have elevated it beyond the usual fare, but it didn’t really capitalize on any of them. Add in the confusing tone it takes and you’ve got a mediocre film that’s even worse thanks to the way it was made.
The November Man‘s action is bloodier than you’d expect, and the dialogue is more profane than it needed to be. One scene takes place in a strip club, and there’s a scene that kind of, sort of, shows rape. Why? Because this is a gritty R-rated movie, of course, except for all the cartoonish action that also fills the picture. It feels like a contradiction, one that might have worked if handled better, but as is comes across as tonally confused and not particularly effective.
At the very least, it’s paced well, is moderately funny, has competent action, and Pierce Brosnan is back as an action hero, although this time he’s more Taken than James Bond. Still, he has the suave and charm to pull it off, and the role isn’t anywhere near as physically demanding as Liam Neeson has in Taken, so you can believe him in the role. Brosnan is always fun to watch just in general, isn’t he? I feel like we really should have gotten more roles out of him, even though he did work a lot both pre- and post-Bond. They just often weren’t for “big” movies.
The supporting cast is largely irrelevant. Luke Bracey is never once believable as Brosnan’s foil, Olga Kurylenko only has to look good in her role, and nobody else gets enough screen time to make much of an impression. This is Brosnan’s film — he also produced it and was the one to get the screen rights to Bill Granger’s novel, There Are No Spies, upon which the film is based, so I suppose this makes sense.
The November Man is a mediocre spy-thriller that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do. It has some gritty, violent, and profane scenes that fit its R rating, but then other times it throws logic and physics out the window with cartoonish action. These movies need to pick one or the other; the middle ground that The November Man wades into simply didn’t work. Pierce Brosnan is always fun, and the pacing and action will keep it so you’re not bored, but if you were to ask me if you should go out of your way to see this film, I’d have to respond with a “no.”