In The November Man, a spy flick from Bank Job director Roger Donaldson, you quickly get the sense that you’re watching an uncredited Bourne sequel, but with a few important improvements: Rated R, no shakey cam, and very few bland functionaries spouting expository buzzwords in front of banks of monitors. Hey, those are good improvements! Especially the rated-R part. It’s nearly impossible to overstate how much better an R-rated version of Bourne or James Bond would be. They’re movies that are already utilitarian, meant to scratch an itch more than they’re meant to be particularly inventive. Porn, basically. And if it’s already this naughty sort of guilty pleasure, why go half-assed on the naughtiness? To make sure we can show movies about constant air strikes and honeypots and assassinations to tweens? That’s much grosser than tits and swears if you ask me.
Anyway, all of this is to say: I like the idea. November Man stars Pierce Brosnan as Peter Devereaux, following him as he does spy stuff and sex stuff (an espionage a trois?) all over a number of picturesque central European locales – Belgrade, Montenegro, Lausanne. Heck, I could watch that all day, especially when everyone in the cast has such incredible eyebrows.
November Man‘s subtle-yet-important tweaks to the established formula are working perfectly at first, and for a while it really does feel like a more grown-up Bourne. That is, until about 40 minutes in, when you can all but hear the sound of the screenwriter’s check clearing and everyone involved completely stops caring. Oh-kay, money’s in the bank, time to wrap this thing up. Hmm, what if there was a scene where the hero Googles “where are the bad guys?”
The dialog, delivered graveliciously by Brosnan, Bracey, and a couple other eyebrow farmers, suddenly devolves from “our involvement in this Chechen false flag scheme could really be a political albatross” to “let her go!” and “if you hurt her I’ll kill you!”
Basically, the smart political thriller turns into a John Cena movie. Even the editor seems to be desperately stretching. One guy scrutinizes about 17 separate pictures of Pierce Brosnan with a little girl before reaching the epiphany that, dunt dunnn, Pierce Brosnan’s character has a daughter. Gee, buddy, you think? Pretty slow on the uptake there, especially for a spy.
The main plot is a mentor/protege conflict between now-rogue actor Brosnan and agency soldier Bracey. It’s compelling at first, with lots of taunting and bitchy phone threats, but by the third act we’re supposed to believe that these two career spies, whose entire lifestyle is built around having the moral flexibility to advance American interests, are suddenly willing to betray everything they’ve worked for up to that point to salvage a bromance. Then there’s a super creepy scene of Olga Kurylenko posing as a prostitute to catch the guy who raped her. There’s nothing wrong with it in theory, it just feels rushed, executed strangely, and her character, who’s already performing a dual honeypot/damsel in distress function, rather than seeming like the tough girl they were shooting for instead comes off kind of pathetic. It doesn’t help that she does some of the most awkward onscreen running I’ve seen since Angelina Jolie’s duck-footed knee chugging in Salt.
November Man had potential, but in the end it’s best as source material for an Olga-Kurylenko-running supercut. That someone so beautiful can still be such a spaz is more compelling than anything else.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. You can find more of his work on FilmDrunk, the Uproxx network, the Portland Mercury, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.