Brosnan Returns To Spy Roots In Dull "November Man"

Spy-thriller “The November Man” very deliberately trades on whatever nostalgia moviegoers might have left for Pierce Brosnan as a secret agent, and ticket-buyers’ mileage will vary accordingly. Oft-regarded as a mid-tier James Bond, Brosnan uses his return to cinematic espionage to remind us of his considerable charm, trading out the iconic black tux for a series of button-downs that fit just as comfortably. But his easy performance is so much better than anything else in the film that its inessential story and spotty supporting performances come across as all the more barren. Bereft of Bond-style theatrics, the star is left to wither in the shadow of the pic’s tired screenplay and straight-to-video production values.

Brosnan headlines as Peter Devereaux, a retired CIA operative who’s drawn back into the game when a former flame becomes entangled with a corrupt, high-ranking Russian official. When her extraction goes bad, Devereaux finds himself caught in a bureaucratic pissing match, unsure of who’s good and who’s bad, ultimately facing down his former protege, David Mason (Luke Bracey). When the pair find each other in their gun sights, the screenplay – based on a novel by Bill Granger – devolves into minor intrigue involving a prostitution ring and a potential CIA-sanctioned cover-up.

Director Roger Donaldson (“The Bank Job”) and company hit the Bond button hard, featuring Olga Kurylenko (former Bond girl) as Alice, a social worker who knows valuable secrets, and repurposing dialogue from Daniel Craig’s first Bond film, “Casino Royale,” as an unsubtle hint that age isn’t enough to keep a good spy from doing his job. Wink. The screenplay’s most self-aware moments are among its worst, as they make for unnecessarily tacky nods at the audience. Yet, the rest of the film is too dour for its own good and could use a dose of the same playfulness.

Of the film’s wealth of regrettable performances – apart from Brosnan, everyone is trying really, really hard to be dramatic – Bracey’s is the worst, coming off like satire in a piece that’s anything but, and sinking any chance of its teacher versus student rivalry carrying the day. Knowing that Dominic Cooper (“Captain America: The First Avenger”) was originally set for the role makes Bracey’s performance an even tougher pill to swallow. That a better version of the film was squashed due to scheduling conflicts is disheartening, and Bracey’s performance certainly won’t win him any future roles.

A sequel to “November Man” was announced months before its release date, marking the kind of sly buzz-building tactic that’s become increasingly fashionable in recent years. But it’s never felt more unearned than this, with “November Man” unable to justify its own existence, let alone that of further entries. It ends up a feeble attempt to give Brosnan his own low-budget action franchise – a la Liam Neeson in “Taken” – and audiences hungry to see the aging spy vet in action would be wise to stick to their Bond Blu-ray discs. As tumultuous as Brosnan’s time in the tux was, it was never this plain, this drab.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: August 27, 2014
Studio: Relativity Media
Director: Roger Donaldson
Screenwriter: Michael Finch, Karl Gajdusek
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Eliza Taylor, Caterina Scorsone, Bill Smitrovich, Will Patton
MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence including a sexual assault, language, sexuality/nudity and brief drug use)