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The November Man (2014)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE NOVEMBER MAN (2014)

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Olga Kurylenko, Luke Bracey, Bill Smitrovich, Will Patton, Eliza Taylor

Written By: Michael Finch, Karl Gajdusek, Bill Granger (novel) Directed By: Roger Donaldson

The Short Version

Pierce Brosnan gets back into the cinematic spy game, with hopes for a franchise.

The story may be built on clichés, but they’re put together well, and you won’t see every twist coming.

The action is excellent and the overall film is very well paced.

The hero is dark without crossing into ‘overdone antihero’ territory.

If you like spy thrillers, The November Man is very much worth your time.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

MOZZARELLA MARINARA.

A hot, tasty snack, covered in just the right amount of red stuff.


Pairs Well With...

JAMESON.

For when you need a little Irish Dreamtime.

“You are one bleak motherfucker.”


The comparisons were inevitable from the moments that the first prerelease trailers hit the air.  Once people figured out that Pierce Brosnan would be playing a former Intelligence agent who’d been coerced out of retirement in The November Man, the automatic assumption was that he was going back to being some kind of James Bond again.

There were those who complained – Brosnan himself among them – that the man who’d at first thrilled audiences in Goldeneye and stumbled harder each time thereafter never quite found his own stride as 007, but here, he gets another chance to come into his own.  Based on the novel “There Are No Spies” by Bill Granger – one of thirteen books in a series; franchise bait that Executive Producer Brosnan is already counting on, since pre-production for a sequel started even before this film even hit theatres – The November Man lets the actor explore similar territory without the baggage and rules of a firmly entrenched franchise to handcuff him.

With that in mind, if there’s any truth to the 007 comparison at all, it is only accurate in the basest of terms.  Sure, he’s a government agent/assassin who is exceptionally good at what he does, but this guy’s also mean.  Take the silver screen Bond you think you know and darken him down.  If you’ve hit the level of a Dark Knight variety Batman, keep going, because you’re not thinking mean enough yet. 

No, I am not going to spoil the most jaw-dropping example of just how mean, but… damn.  That’s enough to make some villains flinch.  And yet he still manages to avoid crossing the threshold of “overdone antihero” territory.

Intrigued?

The plot and story of The November Man are heavily built around genre clichés, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; it is, after all, a formula genre, and the real fun of such plots is to see how well familiar elements are woven together.  In this case, we start with dragging an agent out of retirement for a mission only he can accomplish, which ends up being a double cross and which further ends up pitting him against his former protégé.  That much you can figure out from the trailer, and the first few twists that pop up as Our Hero tries to Protect The Girl and Get To The Bottom Of Things are pretty easy to spot from there.  But just because the first few are easy, that doesn’t mean you’ll see all of them coming (however many times you’ve seen them elsewhere), and that is one of the things that keeps The November Man interesting, along with the fact that unlike so many films that run through the twist engine only to become overtangled and overblown, this one manages to keep it straight and keep it moving.  Internal logic is maintained, and the pace never suffers for the sake of a turn.  Because of that, the viewer is free to just kick back and enjoy the show.

The show, of course, is Pierce Brosnan, and he puts on a good one.  Again, The November Man is a project he went after, and he makes a very conscious effort to make this character his own in a way he couldn’t with Bond and – just as importantly to him as it is to us in the audience – in a way that is distinct from Bond.  (Okay, fine.  For those who are still arguing – yes, I can hear you – if you must draw a comparison, try the cold nasty bastard version of 007 as written by Ian Fleming who was just too dark for Cubby Broccoli to put on the screen without a makeover, and then both darken and lighten him up.  This character is both more brutal and remorseless about his violence and more deeply concerned about those he cares for.)  Brosnan is in full command of every scene he’s in not because of simple star power, but rather because of true screen presence.  He’s also still very much in the game for the action sequences – which get a major bonus for being remarkably CGI-free – and even sharper for the drama.  The November Man lives or dies based on the Brosnan’s performance, and as a result, this grim flick is very much alive.

Credit also goes to the effective direction of Roger Donaldson and the wizards in the editing room who keep the pace brisk.  Twist construction and a story that’s built on discrediting a candidate for the Russian Presidency ground the picture in modern times, but the emphasis on practical action versus overdone CGI also gives The November Man a bit of a classical feel that hearkens back to old school Cold War thrillers, and in this genre, the Cold War is definitely the gold standard.  Color me very pleasantly surprised.

Is all of this to say that The November Man is perfect?  Of course not.  Are there wells I wish the script hadn’t drawn water from?  Sure.  But from the perspective of a genre fan, any flaws this movie may have are minor compared to all of the good stuff on display… especially That One Grim Scene.  If nothing else about this film was worthwhile, The One Grim Scene would be enough.

Bottom line, The November Man is an effective spy thriller – well crafted, well directed, well paced, and well led from the title character front by Pierce Brosnan.  It’s not Bond redux; it’s not Bourne redux; it is its own film, and it’s very much worth your time.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, August, 2014


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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