Who got the band back together? Spy thriller “The November Man” stars Pierce Brosnan, the former James Bond, as a lethal CIA agent. The Damsel in Distress is Olga Kurylenko, the Bond Girl from Daniel Craig’s “Quantum of Solace.” We are about one step away from having a villain with a third nipple.
The “November Man” answers one evergreen debate among Bond fans: could Brosnan have played a tougher, dirtier Craig-like 007? For those who felt Brosnan was unceremoniously dumped in an era of blow-dry Bond – too handsome, too dandy, too ornamental – “The November Man” supports the theory that yes, he could have.
Roger Donaldson’s film is bleaker, bloodier, more cynical. Martinis and casinos are replaced by hard liquor and strip clubs. There’s a certain level of Bond deconstruction going on with CIA master agent Peter Devereaux – an isolated, joyless killer called out of retirement to save a witness to war crimes by a Russian politician. The world’s best intelligence agencies are taking numbers to shoot bullets at them as they cross Belgrade, Serbia.
On top of Brosnan’s hardened performance, other parts of “The November Man” should mildly please its intended audience. There are some decent shootouts and watchable cat-and-mouse chases, even if too much suspense is built by men with guns running into stairwells and elevators. In addition, the film’s big twist works. Or at least I was too stupid to see it coming.
The story needs to tie up the fates of too many spooks and killers to end well, and ending well is about half the battle in a movie like this. Every bad guy needs a comeuppance and every victim needs saving – taking up too much time and concentration. The story screams out for a bleak “Chinatown”-like double-cross – to unmask the hero’s confidence as hubris – that isn’t to come. In addition, never trust a film that promises “one last mission” or ends in testimony at an international tribunal. They rarely go down well.
“The November Man” seems to be running on a household budget. With such a plain look, it feels like the cast and crew are sneaking into empty homes and businesses to film. The cars appear about two classes down from each character. I half-wonder if they even spent money on extras or just shot whoever walked onto the set. Of course that’s ridiculous. But wouldn’t it be fun if each time a bunch of armed men piled into an elevator, someone yelled for police?
The level of negativity that has greeted “The November Man” is a little surprising. While hardly a stirring addition to the spy movie genre, it takes some courage for Brosnan to step into a less glamorous form of his legendary role. I wouldn’t recommend it, but it’s not entirely disappointing.