By now, audiences should be well acquainted with Pierce Brosnan playing an international spy, but this time around, the script is pretty good, full of meaningful character arcs and above average dialogue. The story also feels large and twisty enough to satisfy most fans of spy films. There are only a few scenes that merit eye-rolling, but otherwise, The November Man has enough value that it’s a shame it didn’t run a little longer to help flesh out some of the characters more.
Based on the book There Are No Spies by Bill Granger, The November Man revolves around ex-CIA operative Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan). After a mission in 2008 with his pupil, David Mason (Luke Bracey), goes bad, Devereaux retires in Europe to be a small business owner. Years later, however, he’s pulled back into his former life when an old colleague informs him that one of Devereaux’s old assets is in danger. She has information that proves a powerful Russian politician, who is likely to be the new Russian president, was involved in starting a war by killing innocent people. When Devereaux goes to save his asset, he finds himself running afoul of an ongoing CIA operation regarding the exact same asset. Old allies become enemies, and Devereaux must face off against his old pupil Mason, who is grown into a seasoned agent.
For spy fans, this is a straightforward film. It doesn’t try to be gritty like the Bourne films. There aren’t conspiracies with shadow agencies. There aren’t even any cool gadgets, unless a cell phone tracker and facial recognition software count. Instead, this is an exploration of character with good ol’ fashioned government corruption and a revenge story as stem winders. As such, there’s a lot going on here, including secret relationships, secret identities and secret motives, which gives the film an unfair shallowness that a longer runtime could easily fix. So while the film is good, the book is probably much better.
Had The November Man not been based on a book, the characters most likely would have been much flatter than they’re presented here. The problem isn’t necessarily that the characters are flat, it’s that the film hints at a multi-faceted depth that it doesn’t deliver on. For instance, Devereaux refers to Mason as his best friend, yet the majority of what the audience has seen is Mason hunting Devereaux or otherwise having a combative relationship with him. In another scene, Mason forms a romance with his female neighbor. Then, when her life is in danger, Mason sacrifices a valued target to save her life. Yet, that relationship is never mentioned again or even seems to have an effect on Mason for the rest of the film.
The acting, overall, is serviceable. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t demand that the men emote a wide range of emotions. Occasionally, someone special to them is put in danger and their faces wrench in agony or go pale in fear, but most of the time the men wear grim demeanors. Bill Smitrovich as the weaselly CIA handler Hanley is sufficiently greasy and easy to dislike. It’s Olga Kurylenko, however, who brings the humanity to the film as the social worker Alice. She also demonstrates, once again, why she deserved to be a Bond Girl.
While the script is solid, there are two moments that are incredible – even beyond the standards of spy movies where heroes are mowing down enemies without taking a scratch. In one scene, a major female character is about to exact her revenge, but fails at the last moment due to an emotional conflict. Whether or not it happened in the book this way, the way it’s presented in the film comes off as a silly excuse to have Pierce Brosnan save her. Then later, a character who is writing a newspaper article is interrupted by a trained assassin. After the assassin is dealt with in a very temporary manner, the character goes back to writing the article like nothing happened. Thankfully, these are the only two glaring blemishes in an otherwise cohesive story.
The November Man hits all the right notes for a spy thriller. The chase sequences are engaging. The gun play is good. And the competing interests of all the parties involved raise the stakes appreciably high. The biggest issue the film has going against it is that it isn’t memorable. There are no standout scenes that will have audiences wanting to share this experience with friends and family. Nevertheless, it’s a solid film that will leave very few disappointed.