I never discuss a film’s marketing strategy in my reviews, but I will admit as I was walking into the theater yesterday to check out the new Pierce Brosnan espionage-themed action-thriller THE NOVEMBER MAN, I happened to glance at the poster by the entrance and saw the tag line “A Spy Is Never Out of the Game,” and I couldn’t help but cringe. Sure, Brosnan plays Peter Devereaux, a former CIA agent secretly pulled out of retirement to assist with a mission he has a personal stake in, so the tagline makes sense. But of course, what the marketing geniuses are doing is playing with audience’s familiarity with Brosnan’s most famous film character, James Bond (for you kids out there, he was the super-spy just before Daniel Craig), whom the actor hasn’t played in 12 years.
Upon further examination of the poster, I noticed actress Olga Kurylenko in an micro-minidress, bringing to mind her role in the Bond film QUANTUM OF SOLACE. And if you really want to get specific, THE NOVEMBER MAN also features a supporting role by Will Patton, bringing to mind one of my favorite American films set in the intelligence-gathering community, NO WAY OUT, in which he starred. I didn’t realize at the time that that film’s director, Roger Donaldson (who also did THE BANK JOB and THIRTEEN DAYS), also directed this newest film. But in a strange way, it all works, despite the film relying on a few tried-and-true spy-movie tricks, thanks to Brosnan tearing down the romantic spy mystique and giving us a rather appalling character who has buried his emotions so deep that he doesn’t allow himself any personal connections, or so he’d have you think.
Devereaux’s newest mission is to extract a valuable informant who has information that can take down Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski), a Russian politician who will likely be the next leader of that troubled nation. The information has something to do with his activities during the Serbian War, which included holding captive as sex slaves many underage girls. Many of these girls (the ones who survived the war) ended up in the care of social worker Alice (Kurylenko), who apparently has ties to one former victim that has information that could damage many careers and lives in Russia and America. What begins as a secret extraction turns into Devereaux protecting Alice from getting found and killed for her connection to this missing woman, making him a target as well of the very people he once worked with, including former agent in training David Mason (Luke Bracey, the Australian actor who played Cobra Commander in the last G.I. Joe movie).
What separates THE NOVEMBER MAN (based on the book “There Are No Spies” by Bill Granger, and adapted by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek) from many run-of-the-mill spy stories are the details. There’s nothing especially slick about any of the spy procedures, means of locating people, or taking them out either by capturing or killing them. Every operation is carried out in a methodical manner, and there is always a back-up plan when something fails, and things seem to fail as often as they work. I’m not sure I’d attach the label “authentic” to the mission we see here, but they are certainly less superhero-ish than the Bond films.
One of the best and most complicated character in the film is that of Devereaux’s former friend and colleague Hanley (played by the great character actor Bill Smitrovich), who has a complicated role that I won’t ruin for anyone, but it requires him to wear many faces, and he pulls it off rather nicely. Probably the most fun I had during this film was watching Amila Terzimehic, a former champion of Bosnia and Herzegovina in rhythmic gymnastics, play the stone-cold assassin Alexa, employed by Federov to find and kill Alice. There’s a sequence in which Alexa is warming up to head out on a job that requires her to do a few unreal stretches, and you won’t soon forget it.
I’ll give THE NOVEMBER MAN credit for attempting something that feels like it takes place in the modern world of international espionage, and confusing those in charge and the public can sometimes be just as effective as lying or making something up. There’s a boatload of cynicism at work among these characters, and at times it feels like they’re trying to out-hard luck each other with their stories of broken hearts that led to them being better agents. And I’ll be damned if Brosnan hasn’t gone from being arguably the weakest James Bond to one of the coolest cats in the spy game. This is a pretty easy one to have fun with, without feeling like you have to turn your brain off to do so.