The November Man Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko. Directed by Roger Donaldson. Rated R. Now playing.
Since stepping down from the James Bond franchise after 2002’s Die Another Day, Pierce Brosnan has stayed away from roles that recall the iconic secret agent, instead appearing in romantic comedies and indie dramas and even a musical. With The November Man, Brosnan returns to the spy genre in a big way, taking on the role of the title character, a semi-retired CIA agent named Peter Devereaux, the protagonist of Bill Granger’s series of 13 novels.
Devereaux isn’t James Bond (to start with, he’s American, although Brosnan still can’t quite nail an American accent), but he’s close enough to make comparisons unavoidable, and The November Man comes up short when stacked against any recent Bond adventure. Brosnan is still charismatic and suave, and he distances Devereaux from Bond by playing him as more ruthless and short-tempered, with a more flexible code of ethics (and a dirtier mouth). But he’s still a lone super-spy fighting off interchangeable henchmen and devious masterminds, teamed up with a pretty young woman he has to keep out of danger (played by former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko).
Lured back into the field by his former boss (Bill Smitrovich), Devereaux soon finds himself caught in the middle of an incomprehensible power struggle involving factions within the CIA, a Russian general making a bid for the presidency, a relentless Russian assassin, Devereaux’s former protégé (Luke Bracey) and various other unsavory characters. The plot is so convoluted that it’s almost always hard to tell what is at stake and what each side is trying to accomplish, and even Devereaux’s interest in the entire affair is often unclear.
But this isn’t a deliberately opaque and cerebral spy movie like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; it’s an action movie full of shootouts, fistfights and car chases, and director Roger Donaldson, a veteran of straightforward B-movies, stages that action with competent efficiency. The various plot twists and revelations all land with a thud, however, only serving to make character motivations more inscrutable. Those characters are pretty thinly drawn to begin with, and while Brosnan gives Devereaux a few convincing moments of self-doubt, he’s mostly just a trash-talking, ass-kicking machine. That’s fine for a generic thriller being released in the dog days of August, but for a potential franchise-starter (a sequel has already been green-lit) from one of cinema’s most famous star spies, it counts as a big disappointment.