Movie Review: November Man offers typical summer fare

Pierce Brosnan’s latest is an enjoyable but predictable medley of genre staples.

Montenegro, 2008. Veteran C.I.A. spook Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan), the titular November Man — nicknamed such because there was nothing living after he swept through town — is grooming up-and-coming sharpshooter David Mason (Luke Bracey) in the spy trade.

First helpful hint: “You feel the need for a relationship? Get a dog.”

It’s all about emotional pragmatism in the dangerous and solitary cloak-and-dagger world; that’s nothing new. And not getting close won’t be a problem for Devereaux and Mason after the young gun clips a kid in the line of fire after the old hand tells him not to take the shot, even at Devereaux’s own peril. So the master retires from the game and the disgraced student fades into ops unknown.

Switzerland, 2013. Devereaux is enjoying retirement until an old agency contact, Hanley (Bill Smitrovich), stops in with the idea to reactivate him. Natalia (Mediha Musliovic), an old asset of Peter’s, is in deep with Arkady Fedorov (Lazar Ristovski), a powerful general and the consensus pick to be the next president of Russia. Hanley wants her extracted and won’t settle for any less than the best.

There’s just one small problem: right after uncovering some rather damning dirt from Federov’s past, Natalia gets made by the FSB, Russia’s Secret Service. Devereaux gets there in time to drag her out of the fray, but Langley stooge Weinstein (Will Patton) decides her services are no longer required. And who else is there to push that particular button but Mason himself. Devereaux’s response is to waste his entire team, not too strong a response as we learn that maybe the hardened operator got a little too close and didn’t practice what he preached.

Mason and Devereaux are on a collision course, charging across the chessboard toward each other with bad intentions. There’s just that bit of intrigue involving Federov that won’t stop getting in the way. He has his own deadly button woman, Alexa (Amila Terzimehic) — part Lisbeth Salander, part Terminator — who's set on silencing Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko), the one link left to tie Federov to his past dirty deeds. Who is really working for whom, and who will come out on top when the dust settles?

While an enjoyable ride, The November Man is the same spy thrillcoaster you’ve been on often enough to know the twists and turns with your eyes closed. Sporadic veteran director Roger Donaldson (The Recruit, Dante’s Peak, Cadillac Man) channels his inner Tony Scott for fast-paced action and intrigue, while relative newb screenwriters Karl Gajdusek (Oblivion, Trespass) and Michael Finch (Predators) blend some of the better genre tropes with Bill Granger’s 1979 spy novel, There Are No Spies. Shooting on location in Belgrade and various sites in Montenegro offered some truly beautiful scenery.

While the mentor-vs.-pupil dynamic is hardly new, November Man is reminiscent of Scott’s Spy Game in that respect (hell, Brad Pitt’s character was named Tom Mason, maybe they’re brothers). While this vehicle offers nothing new, it’s worth watching to see Brosnan’s first serious return, post-Bond, to the shadow shenanigans for which he’s perhaps best known. His warhorse Devereaux plays Bracey’s young turk Mason like a rough-hewn Stradivarius. The one major misstep is that the etymology behind his nom de guerre is buried so deep it feels like a contrived, post-credits easter egg.

Regardless of your love-or-loathe stance on Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, The November Man’s pleasing pastiche is worth a watch and won’t leave spy fans out in the cold.

3 out of 5 stars
Rated R. Directed by Roger Donaldson. Starring Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Will Patton. Now playing.

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