Twelve years. That’s how long it’s been since Pierce Brosnan last portrayed James Bond on the silver screen. That history, where he played the iconic British agent for four films, is what the producers of The November Man are hoping will draw you to their movie. Even the tag line, “A spy is never out of the game” is meant to convey the idea that “he’s back!” Much of the promotional work for the film centers around “Look! It’s Pierce Brosnan, back as a spy!” even though it has little to do with the movie. The idea that his character, Peter Devereaux, was ever “out” of the spy world and returns to it is barely emphasized in the actual film. It’s clear this is all about Brosnan. And to really drive that point home, they even cast a former Bond Girl to run around with him through exotic locales.
The fact that the entire appeal of the movie seems to hinge on Brosnan wouldn’t be an issue if he actually delivered an awesome performance in an entertaining movie. But he doesn’t. He feels wildly miscast, ironic when you consider his casting is all the movie seems to have going for it. The same issue that critics of his Bond found problematic during his tour as 007 linger on here. While I never had an issue with his smooth, soft-spoken, debonair take on the character, some felt that he lacked the killer instinct; that he didn’t evoke a sense of danger. The people who felt that way cheered when Daniel Craig took over the role, bringing a character to the screen that would never hesitate to snap your neck if you were in the way of his objective.
Perhaps Craig can take over for Brosnan as the next Devereaux as well? Because while Bond can be played as smooth or deadly, it’s clear that Devereaux is meant to be deadly. I don’t know anything about the literary form of the character (the film is based on the novels by Bill Granger), but in this film we see him take down a C.I.A. hit team with brutal efficiency, he gets right into a top secret interrogation room by bypassing several heavily armed guards by himself, and he works his way to the penthouse of a hotel where a Russian Presidential hopeful is locked away with an entire secret service staff protecting him. This Devereaux is meant to be a bad ass, and the kind that doesn’t mind being completely ruthless while also peppering in a gruff one-liner here and there. Brosnan doesn’t have that kind of edge.
To portray the character, as it’s written in this film, the producers would’ve been better off with a Mel Gibson, a Bruce Willis, or even a Tom Cruise type. Brosnan seems more like the nice man that’s dating your mother, who wears all that good “grandpa” cologne, and teaches you how to behave at a dinner party.
The film itself is frustrating, because it had potential. There are elements of the plot that are genuinely surprising. The pacing of the film is tight and action-packed enough to keep your brain occupied long enough that you won’t be too distracted by the gaps in logic. The two “big baddies” turn in energetic performances. The scenery is beautiful, with much of the film being shot in Belgrade and Montenegro. And there is something cool about the prospect of seeing Brosnan kicking ass and taking names. It just doesn’t all come together. There’s too much working against it.
From implausible situations, to undercooked characters, one too many happy coincidences, and a running time that could’ve been trimmed 10 minutes, the film isn’t smart enough to stand next to a Bond or a Bourne film, but also not sleek and stylish enough to be compared to Mission: Impossible. In fact, after one of the movie’s final twists, it becomes less of an espionage thriller and more of the kind of “old guy action movie” that Liam Neeson has been so gung ho about lately.
Of the supporting cast, the only ones worth noting are the aforementioned former Bond Girl, Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace), and Luke Bracey. Kurylenko and Brosnan have no chemistry to speak of, which wouldn’t be a problem if the pair were merely meant to be a girl and her protector. But as the film rolls on, and you realize that there’s something romantic supposedly brewing between them, you realize this was a failed pairing. As for Bracey, he’s got this young Keanu Reeves meets Paul Walker thing going for him. The stoic face, the vacant stare, and just enough angst to keep things interesting. His mentor-student dynamic with Brosnan is one I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of, if the film had been a tad more focused.
I suppose that’s the biggest issue right there: Focus. The film tries to be too many things. It’s got the elements of espionage, political thriller, revenge quest, family man that wants out of “the life,” and a young agent coming-of-age in the C.I.A. All good tropes, but when mashed together this way, it leaves you feeling hard-pressed to care about any one theme.
I do not recommend this one. Maybe they’ll get it right in the already greenlit sequel? We can only hope.