By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Can one or two misguided scenes ruin an otherwise watchable movie?
Debatable, but the answer in the case of The November Man is “yes.”
This hard-edged superspy thriller, much of the time a glorified shoot-em-up, has an overfamiliar premise and a dated feel to it.
Devereaux — Peter Devereaux — is played by Brosnan –- Pierce Brosnan, who used to play Bond — James Bond.
Brosnan, also one of the numerous (13!) executive producers, stars as ex-CIA operative Devereaux, whose code name lends the film its title.
He comes out of a five-year retirement living quietly in Switzerland following a thirty-years-plus career that ended immediately after a mission went south.
What brings him back to go rogue? The fact that a number of CIA agents have died who were operating close to Russia’s apparent next president, suggesting a conspiracy or at least a well-placed double agent.
Swaggering, impossibly resourceful operative Devereaux’s mission: to extract a female agent from Moscow who requested Devereaux for the assignment.
The supporting cast includes Luke Bracey as Devereaux’s former CIA protégé; former Bond babe Olga Kurylenko as an elusive Serbian social worker and potential witness who needs protection; Will Patton as a CIA executive; Amila Terzimehic as a dangerous and relentless Russian assassin; Bill Smitrovich as Devereaux’s boss; Lazar Ristovski as the former general and politician who could be the next Russian president; and Patrick Kennedy as a New York Times reporter.
Needless to say, Brosnan’s four-feature, decade-long stint as Agent 007 (in GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, and Die Another Day) comprises a reel-life espionage pedigree. And he certainly and obviously still has the presence to hold the screen with chilly authority, cynical conviction, and aloof charm, even when he’s saddled with wrongheaded scenes.
The same can not be said for Bracey, however, the young Aussie who gets co-lead billing but brings nothing to the table, leaving Brosnan to do all the heavy lifting.
Now, as taken as we are with Liam Neeson as a middle-aged action star, Brosnan is every bit his equal. But then there’s that inconsistent script.
Veteran Australian director Roger Donaldson (Seeking Justice, The Bank Job, The Bounty, No Way Out, The Getaway, Dante’s Peak, Thirteen Days) does an efficient job of keeping things moving with Bourne-like speed and ruggedness.
But at least two arbitrary, unconvincing scenes undercut and undermine everything else.
The most egregious miscalculation is a key scene in which Devereaux acts with such cavalier cruelty to an undeserving recipient that it leaves a lingering bad taste that pretty much destroys whatever rooting interest has already been earned.
And a close second — but silly rather than morally offensive — is a chase scene in which the protagonist and antagonist have a chat on their cell phones while chasing and trying to kill each other. Very believable.
The screenplay by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek — based on the Bill Granger novel There Are No Spies, one in a series of books featuring Devereaux as the protagonist -– is short on character delineation and fuzzy on motivations, and resorts to extensive awkward speechifying to finesse all the necessary exposition. The narrative has its share of twists and turns, but the action is uninspired and tired, and that undeniable streak of sadism and misogyny keeps surfacing.
So I spy 2 stars out of 4 for The November Man, an energetic but problematic espionage thriller that shoots itself in the foot.