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Friday, October 3, 2014

The November Man

Brosnan's Never Say Never Again - but with more nudity, violence and bad language...

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

A retired CIA agent is brought back into the fold on a personal mission that soon finds him going head to head against his former apprentice.

What we thought

Take one former James Bond (Pierce Brosnan), one Bond Girl (Olga Kurylenko) and chuck them into a plot of super-spies, double crosses and international espionage and you get a film that is much comfort food as it is cliché. There is absolutely nothing even remotely original about The November Man and even less that's genuinely extraordinary about it but, in this case, that might not be such a bad thing.

Brosnan plays a spy who is even more of a bastard than Bond but he plays him with much the same suave charm and acerbic wit that he brought to his most famous role and, even if the world he inhabits is less abjectly ridiculous than the one of that era of 007, it's still pretty familiar. Indeed, The November Man is pretty much a Daniel Craig Bond film from a universe where the Daniel Craig Bond films still starred Pierce Brosnan – and quite a bit more profanity, violence and nudity. The fact that Quantum of Solace's Olga Kurlyenko is along for the ride only cements that impression.

Overseas critics and, to be fair, most audiences seem to have written off the film so maybe it's just me, but isn't there something oddly agreeable about a spy thriller that knows the ins and outs of its genre as well as The November Man clearly does? It's fast paced, action packed and solidly under two hours long, with plenty of twists and turns that are far from unpredictable but are more than enough to have one engrosses throughout.

Director Roger Donaldson (working off a workmanlike but sharp enough script by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek, based on the novel by Bill Granger) is an old hand and though his filmography isn't exactly stuffed to the gills with masterpieces – though it does include Species, much to my sixteen year old self's eternal gratitude – but he knows how to construct a decent action thriller and that's exactly what we get here.

The November's Man's Ace in the hole though is the November Man himself. While Olga Kurylenko is perfectly good as the film's most human element, Pierce Brosnan proves once again just how good he's gotten in recent years. This is hardly his most challenging role to date but he's incredibly effective as this damaged killer, bringing the perfect balance of iciness and emotional depth to make us at least somewhat care about a character who is not, by any stretch of the imagination, likeable.

The rest of the cast largely fare less well but then they aren't exactly given plenty to work with. Luke Bracey is fine as Brosnan's character's protege-turned-kinda-enemy but the actual bad guys in the film make no impression whatsoever. They're bad and they're Russian and that's mostly it and they only barely hold things together while we wait for the (slightly) surprising big bad to show up. Still, as canon fodder for our blood-thirsty spies, they pretty much do the trick.

I know this whole review seems like an exercise in damning with faint praise but while non-fans of the genre need not apply, it's hard to believe that any fan of slightly trashy spy thrillers won't find plenty to enjoy here.


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