There is a certain type of film one almost needn’t even watch in order to know more or less the arch of its contents. Brief views of the motion picture’s poster, promotional materials, and certainly most often within the contents of its trailer, context clues and taken-for-granted tip offs can often lead knowing audiences astray from even paying any closer heed to an upcoming movie.
Unfortunately for The November Man, it very certainly falls into such a category. Where a movie trailer like that for the upcoming Men, Women & Children leaves audiences begging for more insight into this curious and strange concept about to be dissected, The November Man immediately builds its promotion around Pierce Brosnan’s 007 cachet, and this ultimately falls to the film’s detriment, as it never gains enough momentum to be nearly as thrilling as any Bond film.
Directed by Roger Donaldson, it begins softly with a kind of promise that perhaps it could be a potentially thrilling action journey, but quickly falls into predictable and forgettable territory. The allegedly close rapport audiences are supposed to believably feel between the young CIA agent Mason (Luke Bracey) and the veteran seasoned killer, Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) is dampened entirely by Bracey’s lack of natural talent. Despite sharing an uncanny resemblance to a one (albeit younger looking) Sean Bean, (who worked with Brosnan in the 1995 James Bond film GoldenEye), Bracey possesses none of Bean’s charisma or onscreen presence. His interactions of lighter humor feel stilted, and his attempt to be a serious agent at times induces undesired laughter over his perhaps earnest yet unsympathetic attempts at sincerity. Back into the acting school classroom this one ought travel.
But Bracey, though among the chief offenders, is regrettably not the least of this film’s problems. Brosnan is no doubt something of a formidable action star, but his presence here seems somehow always off-kilter. It has less to do with Brosnan himself, however, and almost all to do with the fact that due to wishywashy screenwriting the filmmakers do not seem to have a clear idea of where they desire this story to go or how they want to get there. The twists and turns the plot takes teeter on the brink between not believable and just simply stupid. For example, one of the major plot twists—spoiler alert—is that ex-agent Devereaux had a daughter the agency never knew about. …Really? And for 15+ years no one knew that, despite there being photographic evidence of her? It is moments like these throughout the film, where stakes are supposed to be heightening, where instead credibility continues its rapidly increasing decline, leaving viewers to care less and less for any sense of why these people are after whatever it is they’re after and why any of it matters to any sense of a thrilling tale to which any part is worth a listen.
The tangled plot comes across as contrived in its layering, as certain characters seem thrown in just to make simple moments appear more complex. Essentially there is a corrupt Russian politician on the rise, Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski), who is in the pocket of a corrupt U.S.A. CIA leader, and everyone is in a tizzy over trying to kill each other on the way to either making or destroying Federov’s career. There is a side plot of the fact that five or so years ago, agents Mason and Devereaux used to work together, though now the agency wants them to kill each other, though they still harbor friendly feelings for one another, so this mix up surfaces again and again throughout the film. At one point Mason gets romantically entangled with his neighbor down the hall in his apartment building, Sarah (Eliza Taylor—also, terrible at acting), because, well, there needed to be something like that added in, so sure, she’ll do in a stakes-heightening pinch. When Devereaux makes an attempt on her life to test Mason, presumably viewers are supposed to now call into question his heretofore ostensible trustworthiness as a protagonist about whom to care and wonder, oh no, is he really so good after all? Eyes most likely instead are rolling by this point.
A light amid the shadows, however, is the interesting and skilled presence of Olga Kurylenko, who plays a character integral to the plot named Alice. Alice has a dark past and hidden identities and all the things thriller films love to sink their teeth into. Kurylenko has built a steady career of compelling performances, be it in large action films like Oblivion or subtler fare like To the Wonder; she remains a consummate performer, whose singular style brings heft to her work. One would hope Hollywood sees this potential within her and that she is offered increasingly complex, multilayered roles as time goes on. With high level skill behind her stunning beauty, she most definitely made certain parts of The November Man more tolerable in the intake—even if she had to make watchers believe that someone writing an entire essay in one quick go on a public, subway station computer could leave it, go hunt down some Russian murderer woman who’s in turn hunting her, and return to the essay/e-mail having been untouched, saved, and as she left it…puuuleeeeeze.
The November Man is, more or less, a snooze fest—the title having to do with a weather metaphor should have been the first hint. Plus, with a horribly sexist line referring to a woman CIA agent merely as “Tits” and asking her to leave the room while the men talk, one could neatly dismiss this entire film solely based on its disgusting mysogyny and sexist framework. Trust this: that line is neither the end nor the worst of it. Skip it and wait for the next time around when Brosnan is given a gun and a sourpuss attitude; hopefully then it’ll be within the confines of a storyline about which anyone could at least attempt to care.