Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence including a Sexual Assault, Language, Sexuality/Nudity and brief Drug Use
Directed by: Roger Donaldson
Written by: Michael Finch & Karl Gajdusek
(based on the novel THERE ARE NO SPIES by Bill Granger)
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Bill Smitrovich, Amila Terzimehic & Lazar Ristovski
Color me pleasantly surprised. I did not expect to like THE NOVEMBER MAN as much as I did. There’s a certain charm that’s usually apparent in most standard spy movies. What’s surprising is that this one turned out to be a pretty damn great thriller that has an interesting plot, dark atmosphere, and a whole lot of ass kicking from a former Bond. This flick may have some clichés, but I had a blast watching this full-throttle blend of action and conspiracy thriller. NOVEMBER MAN is bound to walk away as one of the most underrated movies of 2014, which speaks both to its overall quality and the sad state of the box office for this film.
Peter Devereaux, a former CIA agent, is living his retirement out quietly in Switzerland. When someone he cares about is put in danger, Peter jumps back in the game and his simple mission doesn’t go through as initially planned. Devereaux finds himself up to his neck in enemy fire, a conspiracy, and fellow agents turning against him. Not everything is as it simple as it originally seemed. Peter bonds with a Russian social worker in grave danger, must face off against his former protégée turned enemy, and finally reveal the truth about a deadly secret that started this whole mess he’s trapped in. Also plenty of bodies pile up, explosions occur, blood is shed, a Russian assassin is also on his tail, slow motion is used, and a whole lot of twists (that I didn’t see coming) are launched at the viewer. This is a rollicking good time.
Pierce Brosnan funded this movie himself after it failed to gain much attention and I can safely say that NOVEMBER MAN will make its money back at the box office (only a mere 15 million budget, which makes everything that much more impressive). Roger Donaldson confidently takes the directing reigns. It was nice to see action scenes where the violence was actually well-choreographed (but convincing) and the camera wasn’t shaking all over the place. Donaldson makes a repeated stylistic choice that’s questionable (more on that later), but the action had me on the edge of my seat. Every single one of the performers did an excellent job. Pierce Brosnan is a compelling lead, going into territory that not even Bond would touch. Olga Kurylenko disappears into her role of the Russian social worker, who becomes Brosnan’s sort of love interest (it’s not an essential piece of the film). Also Luke Bracey is a pretty boy in all of his other roles, but does well as Brosnan’s main antagonist. Though I feel Dominic Cooper (the original choice for the role) would have delivered a far bigger rival screen presence for Brosnan. Other colorful characters include newcomer Amila Terzimehic as the Russian assassin and a smarmy Bill Smitrovich in a memorable part.
NOVEMBER MAN is loaded with an unusually smart plot for a summer action flick. It also doesn’t shy away from the R-rated content. There’s a reason it got this rating and I’m glad the studio didn’t go to absurd lengths of pandering to those who wouldn’t even be interested in watching this film to begin with (how many people under the age of 16 even know who Pierce Brosnan is?). The flick goes into dark (at one point, uncomfortable) territory, but it never lost me in terms of turning into an outright disturbing flick along the lines of 8MM. At the end of the day, this is a popcorn-munching action flick with more brains and talent than one might expect walking in. Comic relief can either work wonders or be unbearably distracting in this type of film. I can’t think of a single joke that didn’t work. It helps that there aren’t a vast number of them, but when Brosnan injected some humor, I laughed.
On the annoying side of things (nothing is downright bad), a couple of the clever plot points are mighty convenient. I did call a major twist about 20 minutes before it was fully revealed, but it almost seemed like that was the film’s intention as the reveal is a quiet one that doesn’t spell everything out for those who weren’t paying attention. A couple of interesting characters are unceremoniously disposed of, but it was probably in the interest of time (though I would have been happy if the film lasted 20 minutes longer in order to resolve those plot threads in a more concrete way). Also director Roger Donaldson goes into slow-motion overload. It’s cool to show a few scenes (such as explosions or a bloody shootout) in this way, but Donaldson shows some mundane things like a cell phone being tossed out of a car or someone falling over a pipe during a fight in super slow-mo as well. These latter instances felt unnecessary and silly. He also indulges in a few too many lens flares.
In January, an attempt to jump-start a spy franchise was released in the form of JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT. That film was decent at best, surprisingly high-grade compared to the rest of theatrical dreck in that dump month. However, it bombed and there’s not much of a chance to see another JACK RYAN flick in a long time. NOVEMBER MAN does what JACK RYAN tried to do with a much lower budget, a more mature story, and never panders to making things accessible for the widest possible audience (the R rating should really be applauded here). I’d much rather see the return of Peter Devereaux (a.k.a. November Man) than I would Jack Ryan. I really hope the announced sequel is really in the works and if so, I can’t wait to see it. THE NOVEMBER MAN is most likely going to wind up as my biggest unexpected surprise of the year. It’s not only better than looked, but it’s a legitimately great spy thriller. Check it out!