In The November Man Brosnan's Bond is back, kind of...
Kickstarting his own action spy thriller franchise – and with a sequel in the works – The November Man should have been a beacon of hope in the latter end of Brosnan’s career.Seldom retrospectively regarded all that highly for his Bond contribution – perhaps largely thanks to the over-the-top-even-for-Bond Die Another Day – Pierce Brosnan is never given the credit he deserves: without his 1996 Goldeneye instantly reigniting the franchise, we may never have got the more mature Daniel Craig entries that we now have. When he passed on the mantle, almost a decade ago, he kept one eye on another similar project – and potential franchise – based on Bill Granger’s 'November Man' series of novels. Adapting the chosen book, several instalments into the series – 'There Are No Spies' – proved a fairly difficult task, taking until now to get off the ground.
Unfortunately, it’s not really worth the wait.The story – far more convoluted, and real-world, than anything Bond would normally get involved in – pits Brosnan’s ageing, retired CIA officer (codenamed: The November Man) who is called back into action to extract an undercover CIA operative from deep within the Russian government; a woman who can provide evidence of the Russian President-elect’s connections with war crimes. Of course things don’t go too smoothly, with the November Man’s trigger-happy old protégé having been drafted in for a similar operation, only with orders to kill. On the run and unsure of who to trust, he enlists the help of an unrealistically beautiful refugee worker, and avoids the bullets of his former-partner-turned-assassin, whilst trying to figure out how to stay alive and get all the bad guys.
There are plenty of interesting ideas and engaging elements on offer in The November Man, but the trouble is that they are all fairly familiar spy genre tropes, and that the now-clichés are almost universally delivered with a distinct lack of finesse. Characters are painted in one-dimensional form, with lazy and thus predictable roles for most of the cast, almost all of which are pretty unmemorable beyond Brosnan himself, who struggles in spite of the odds against him.
Perhaps the film would have worked better had it gotten off the ground sooner; perhaps it would have been better to pick a different, earlier book with which to introduce us to his spy character; and perhaps the film could have done with a better supporting cast (Dominic Cooper dropped out at the last minute as the protégé/antagonist role in order to do Need for Speed, which should have perhaps set off a few alarm bells). Certainly Brosnan distinguishes his character from his previously unflappable gentleman Bond, providing us a more gritty, angry and brutal protagonist, but one who doesn’t get much to flesh out his background or give us insight into his motivations. And painfully bland relatively unknown Luke Bracey makes for a lame replacement for Cooper; with Olga Kurylenko going through the motions as a strong female lead in-name-only.
It's not a bad movie, but it would have been better received as a premium DTV release, and certainly better enjoyed at home.
Funnily enough, despite everything that works against it – the uneven plotting, which blends several different arcs clumsily into an incoherent whole; the predictable twists; the sharply-edited action sequences designed to mask Brosnan’s age; and the sheer lack of unoriginality – The November Man is far from unwatchable. It neither has the easy smoothness of Costner’s 3 Days to Kill, nor the efficiency of Neeson’s Taken, but it’s got all the trappings of a Besson-produced effort, and offers the same kind of Happy Meal satisfaction. Paying full price for a cinema ticket leaves you feeling a little robbed, but I imagine that if you gave this a watch on Netflix, or picked it up cheaply as the DTV-esque entry that it tries its hardest to pretend not to be, you’d probably be pleasantly surprised. And it must have done something right, because it’s already got a sequel greenlit – one which will probably be worth checking out, although arguably maybe on its home run.
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