‘The November Man’
Director: Roger Donaldson
Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Olga Kurylenko
1 Globe (out of 5)
Of all the men who’ve played James Bond, Pierce Brosnan is the saddest, maybe even the angriest. After all, Brosnan was born to play Bond; he was just born at the wrong time. He came into the franchise when it truly hit a nadir, some of the films even worse than the worst Roger Moores. (“Octopussy” is an awful entry, but 007 dressed as a clown is less undermining than him driving around an ice castle in “Die Another Day.”) And he left right when the producers started taking his advice to make the character rougher, darker, less of a cartoonish self-parody. Brosnan even blew off steam during his tenure by making “The Tailor of Panama,” in which he played a spy with all of Bond’s faults amplified — a Tex Avery horndog who molests women and foments an international incident mostly because he’s bored.
The new “The November Man” has its dark parts, but it’s more in line with the Bond films: a spy romp that gallivants about the globe (or just the cheaper-to-film Eastern European parts of it) and allows the star, now 61, to return to shooting, saving damsels who need saving and strutting away from explosions. It was made to return Brosnan to his glory days, to give Daniel Craig a run for his money (or at least tide us over until his return). Instead, it plays like a third-rate, direct-to-Netflix knockoff that looks like crap and can’t charm its way out of its consistent and noticeable stupidity.
Brosnan, for the record, is fine. He’s fully committed, which makes sense: he’s been trying to get this made since he was booted from 007. He plays another novelistic spy semi-hero: author Bill Granger’s Peter Devereaux, a CIA goon who quit the business after a simple job ended with a kid dead. He’s lured back in to work on a case involving a Russian presidential nominee (Lazar Ristovski) with a deeply checkered history involving the Chechen War. This goes about as swimmingly as Brosnan’s own return to the genre.
In fact, Brosnan is the only thing that works. Not even its director, the spotty but sometimes capable Roger Donaldson (“No Way Out,” “The Bank Job”), is on his game. Donaldson can’t do much with the screenplay’s dose of lame action, “clever” tricks that wouldn’t fool a donkey and geopolitics that are so stupid even this reviewer could follow them. It’s all depressingly cut-rate, from Devereaux’s bland hotheaded former mentee (Luke Bracey) to its laughable over-use of slow-motion, especially when someone runs into a conveniently placed panel of Plexiglas. It’s a throwback to the action films made before the era of action movie parodies.
There is something interesting here: Devereaux isn’t exactly a good guy. He’s a man of principle but also a loose cannon: a boozer whose past is strewn with profound loss; a careerist whose job is to kill; a man who — in the film’s most second most bizarre scene — severs an innocent woman’s ephemeral artery just to prove a point. Once he does the latter, Devereaux is never quite as trustworthy.
But the film soldiers on anyway, even giving Devreaux a cute, semi-estranged daughter intended to humanize him. It’s really just afraid to fully explore a character who may be more dangerous than he lets on, just as it can’t deal with using the Chechen War as a subject. A thriller this frivolous should have nothing to do with the grim realities of war trauma and rape and the Hague, all of which shatter the movie’s delicate dumbness. Bonus points stricken for the most anticlimactic revelation of an obscure movie title in memory.
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