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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 29 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 35
Brosnan's Man an extraordinary spy trapped in an ordinary thriller
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Brosnan's Man an extraordinary spy trapped in an ordinary thriller

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE NOVEMBER MAN
Now playing


While a success as far as the CIA was concerned, the last mission ace spy Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) was a part of left a bad taste in his mouth, leading him to take an early retirement, marred only by the memories of the dead bodies he played a part in laying six-feet under the soil. So when his old boss John Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) approaches him to take part in one last mission, he knows this is one operation he should probably turn down.

For reasons entirely his own, however, saying no isn't an option, and when things ultimately go bad, the only thing on Devereaux's mind is getting revenge against those he feels have done him and the people closest to him wrong. Ultimately he becomes the protector of Eastern European social worker Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko), using her to find a mysterious, faceless woman who could be the key to uncovering horrific war crimes committed by the presumed next President of the Russian Federation, Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski).

It gets even more complicated from there, because it isn't just Federov who wants the information Fournier is concealing, but also Hanley's boss at the CIA, Perry Weinstein (Will Patton), the latter sending Devereaux's former pupil David Mason (Luke Bracey) into the fray with orders to shoot to kill and not worry about the questions. Throw in a series of ever-escalating romances, double-crosses, hidden agendas and mistaken identities, and it's clear that director Roger Donaldson's The November Man has a heck of a lot on its twisted little mind.

Problem is, as convoluted as things might become, this adaptation of Bill Granger's best-selling pulp thriller There Are No Spies, with a screenplay by Michael Finch (Predators) and Karl Gajdusek (Oblivion), none of the stuff that happens feels even fresh, original or inspired. It's apparent early on who the real bad guy is, while the identity of the missing girl with all the answers isn't a shock. Everything is by the numbers, all of it transpiring with a matter-of-fact exactitude that's moderately routine.

Thankfully, Donaldson, an old hand at this sort of thriller, what with No Way Out, The Recruit and The Bank Job under his belt, handles things with effortless authority, and while he doesn't do anything out of the ordinary, his staging of central adrenaline-fueled sequences is confidently rock solid. He's also cast things exceedingly well, and it goes without saying, it's a delight to see Brosnan back in action inside the confines of a spy vs. spy narrative. The former James Bond is icily efficient, channeling his emotional outbursts with aggressive precision, allowing the primal ferocity of his actions to speak for themselves, everything and everyone else be damned.

It does all feel more like a handsome BBC Television production than it does a feature film, and the routine nature of the central mystery isn't a plus. But Donaldson doesn't mince words or cut corners; and thanks to John Gilbert's (Chasing Mavericks) crackerjack editing, the overall production never overstays its welcome, nicely building to a suitably bullet-riddled conclusion fans of second-tier espionage actioners are sure to enjoy.

Some inherent silliness aside (Devereaux's storming of a supposedly well-defended hotel is particularly loopy), The November Man is enjoyable enough for what it is. It's in expecting more than something just a tiny bit above average where disappointment ultimately lies, and considering the talents of the majority of those involved, that's one emotional reaction almost impossible not to come by.

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