FRESH POUR: The November Man (2014)

Clint takes a look at one or two new releases that come out each week –just a short look at what’s being released in theaters, along with some drinking rules for your own perusal.

november_man_xlgThe November Man
Dir. Roger Donaldson
Relativity Media

Pierce Brosnan’s Bond films were no great shakes (Goldeneye excluded), but I rather enjoyed his presence as an action star; the way he carries himself during fistfights and gun battles is always fun, and Brosnan has a ruggedly handsome charisma that is sometimes able to elevate the material he’s given. Unfortunately, though, Brosnan decided he missed playing Bond 10 years later, and got his production company Irish Dreamtime to get him back in the saddle for The November Man. The film reeks of desperation, a studio-concocted meld of James Bond, Jason Bourne, Taken and the Jack Ryan movies of the 90s – an apathetic sampler pack of airport-novel spy cliches that is nearly impossible to stay awake for, much less become invested in.

Based on the “November Man”* book series, Brosnan plays the nauseatingly-named Peter Devereaux, an amoral middle-aged spy who finds himself in the middle of an ill-defined and hopelessly convoluted plot involving a Putin-esque Russian leader and his history of child sex trafficking. It feels like there’s more to the story, but that’s mostly because the whirlwind, cyclical screenplay keeps throwing ever more arbitrary twists at you – by the time you think you have a grasp of who these people are and what they want, screenwriters Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek change the fundamental nature of one of the major characters (she’s the real target! He’s really the bad guy!) seemingly because they were bored.

To invite further comparisons to Bond, The November Man even brings along one of Daniel Craig’s Bond girls (Olga Kurylenko), who spends much of the film lying about who she is for the sake of a thankless twist. On top of that, she engages in one of the most head-scratchingly bizarre uses of technology in a spy film (writing a long-winded tell-all about not-Putin’s war crimes in an email she’s sending to ‘editor@nytimes.com’). While she gets a few decent scenes with Devereaux – including one that just presupposes that they’ve slept together – she gets lost in the miasma of supporting characters the film can’t seem to get too excited about. Furthermore, the fluid nature of her identity sees her see-sawing between femme fatale Bond girl, concerned pragmatist Bond girl, and silly damsel-in-distress.

The only remotely interesting element of the film is the undercooked rivalry/mentorship he has with his young protege/predator Mason (a Liam Hemsworth lookalike named Luke Bracey); the two have a contentious semi-familial relationship, borne of mutual respect but forced into conflict because of duty. There’s a sense that Devereaux’s mentorship of Mason is an attempt to make up for his past mistakes, cracking the whip regarding things like following orders and not forming romantic attachments. It’s a great concept for a spy thriller (Old Bond mentors young Bourne!), and I wish it wasn’t pushed to the sidelines so often in this film. There’s even a decent little act in the middle where Mason decides to throw caution to the wind and sleep with his hot neighbor, only to fall into a trap set by Devereaux where he has to choose between the girl and his mission. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it’s a hell of a lot more fun than the warmed-over Cold War-era spycrafting we get.

In the end, The November Man just feels lay and half-hearted, concerned with knocking off a checklist of spy-film clichés and juggling three or four different spy film plots at the same time. Any one of them could have received singular focus and tied the whole thing together, but as it stands it feels like Brosnan and crew just wanted to do everything at once. By the time the film closes, I feel like I don’t know anything about Devereaux, or Mason, or any of the other characters; The November Man wants to revel in the contradictory nature of people and politics, but it just comes off as confused.

*It must be noted that, at no point during the actual film does anyone call Devereaux “The November Man”; it’s only name-dropped at the very end by the film’s villain, a sad-looking Bill Smitrovich, visibly thankful to have such a big part in a studio film despite half his dialogue being clumsily misogynistic cracks like “Show me your tits”). Even then, the final explanation is such a silly, desperate way to have their protagonist have a cool spy nickname that it’s impossible to take seriously. It’s much more rewarding to imagine that he just fucking loves pumpkin spice lattes.

Clint’s Verdict: Skip It!

The November Man Movie Drinking Game:
1) Drink whenever a cell phone or computer is used (poorly)
2) Drink every time a woman is hurt or insulted
3) Drink any time someone says “Chechen”
Finish Your Drink When:
Someone actually explains why the fuck they call him “The November Man” (something no one actually calls Pierce Brosnan).

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About Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film critic and podcaster. A member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle, you can find his other film work at Consequence of Sound, Crooked Marquee and UPROXX. He is also the co-host of Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast.

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