THE NOVEMBER MAN
More than just another clichéd spy flick.
Film Review © 2014 by Trip Reynolds
Directed by Roger Donaldson; Screenplay by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek. Story by Bill Granger from the book, "There Are No Spies." Produced by Sriram Das and Beau St. Clair. Co-produced by Keith Arnold and Steve Shapiro. Executive Produced by Pierce Brosnan, Brandt Andersen, Remington Chase, Grant Cramer, Scott Fischer, Kevin Scott Frakes, Ryan Kavanaugh, Corey Large, Myles Nestel, Alan Pao, Ankur Rungta, Vishal Rungta, Raj Brinder Singh, and Kevan Van Thompson. Line producer Andjelija Vlaisavljevic.
Starring: Pierce Brosnan (as retired spy, Devereaux), Luke Bracey (as Devereaux's protégé, Mason), Olga Kurylenko (as the lithe, sexy, and former victim of the evil Arkady Federov, Alice Fournier), Bill Smitrovich (as the sincerely duplicitous CIA agent, Hanley), Amila Terzimehjic (as gymnastically limber, large-nosed Russian assassin, Alexa), Lazar Ristovski (as former Russian war criminal and sexual pervert, soon to be Russia's new Prime Minister, the evil General Arkady Federov); Mediha Musliovic (as Natalia Ulanova), Eliza Taylor (as Sarah), Caterina Scorsone (as Devereaux former Russian lover and mother of their 12 year old daughter, Celia), Akie Kotabe (as Meyers), Will Patton (as bureaucratic CIA agent-in-charge, Perry Weinstein), Patrick Kennedy (as Edgar Simpon), Dragan Marinkovic (as Denisov), Ben Willens (as Agent Jones), Milos Timotijevic (as Federov's Chief of Staff), and a host of others.
Some of you, especially cynical film goers and film critics, are likely to dismiss this film thinking Pierce Brosnan, former star of the James Bond film franchise, is too old to cut the mustard in an action film. Frankly, such bias against the film before or while seeing it is not only downright stupid, even worse, it's racist and discriminatory. Yes, I'll prove my point momentarily. First, let's get some facts out of the way. For those of you, especially film critics, who hold the erroneous opinion Pierce Brosnan is too old to be in an action film, note the following facts:
ACTOR BORN AGE MOST RECENT FILM # FILMS SCHEDULED
FOR RELEASE 2014
# FILMS SCHEDULED FOR RELEASE 2015 OR LATER
TOTAL GROSS OF ALL FILMS ($Millions)
AVERAGE GROSS PER FILM ($Millions) Harrison Ford 13 July 1942 72 Expendables 3 1 2 $3,886,200,000 39 $99.6 Danny Trejo 16 May 1944 70 In The Blood 10 8 N/A 61 N/A Sylvester Stallone 6 July 1946 68 Expendables 3 2 5 $1,925,600,000 39 $49.4 Arnold Schwarzenegger 30 July 1947 67 Expendables 3 2 3 $1,787,800,000 28 $63.9 Samuel L. Jackson 21 December 1948 65 Captain America: The Winter Soldier 5 4 $4,002,700,000 62 $64.6 Steven Seagal 10 April 1952 62 A Good Man 2 3 N/A 44 N/A Liam Neeson 7 June 1952 62 A Walk Among the Tombstones 5 3 $2,716,700,000 57 $47.7 Pierce Brosnan 16 May 1953 61 The November Man 4 5 $1,412,300,000 36 $39.2 Denzel Washington 28 December 1954 59 The Equalizer 1 N/A $2,135,300,000 42 $50.8 Bruce Willis 19 March 1955 59 Sin City: A Dame To Die For 2 5 $3,183,400,000 58 $54.9 Antonio Banderas 10 August 1960 54 Expendables 3 4 3 $2,205,000,000 41 $53.8 Jean-Claude Van Damme 18 October 1960 53 Full Love 2 1 N/A 51 N/A George Clooney 6 May 1961 53 The Monuments Men 1 3 $1,913,900,000 31 $61.7 Tom Cruise 3 July 1962 52 Edge of Tomorrow 1 3 $3,391,900,000 35 $96.9
Sources: Wikipedia, Box Offie Mojo, IMBD
Clearly, Brosnan is right there in the middle-of-the-pack of established, over 50 years of age, physically fit, actively working "A-List" or "B-List" (name above the film title) action movie stars. Notably, this list includes White, Latino, and Black actors ("Hollywood" does not champion the existence of U.S. born Asian or Native American action film stars, male or female).
Chuck Norris, is 74 years old, and except for his 2012 cameo in "Expendables 2" he's not a working actor. John Travolta, born February 18, 1954, is 60 years old, and Tom Hanks, born July 9, 1956, is 58 years old, and although both men make "dramatic films" with action, they are not " action film stars." However, Wesley Snipes, born July 31, 1962, is 52 years old, is an action film star. Unfortunately, Snipes' career was put on hold due to serving time for tax evasion, but he has relaunched his film career by starring in "Expendables 3."
Nicolas Cage, born January 7, 1964, only recently turned 50 years of age. As validated by the above chart, there clearly are older actors and actors of color who appear in major release action films. To apply the clichéd statement that Brosnan is "too old for the part" is race and age discrimination. Brosnan, and not a younger actor like 33 year old Ryan Gosling, is perfect for the part of a senior, retired CIA spy. Duh. By the way, did you notice Brosnan's "star value" helped his films to gross more than $1.4 billion!
Second, in keeping with the factual use of deceit and double-cross, which is common to both the "real life" and literary world of counter-intelligence and spying, "The November Man" has a convoluted script, so it's worth your while to pay attention. Oh, it's easy enough to follow what's going on, but if your mind is closed to the twists and turns, you'll miss an entertaining ride.
The story? Retired CIA agent Devereaux (Brosnan) is asked by his former CIA boss, Hanley (Bill Smitrovich), to retrieve his former Russian lover Celia (Caterina Scorsone) who has evidence of war crimes performed by her boss, Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski), who's expected to be elected Russia's next president. Devereaux's exit plan for Celia is foiled by his former protégé, Mason (Luke Bracey). Mason has grown to become a journeyman spy, but Devereaux's more annoyed by Mason than challenged, and Brosnan's "Devereaux" is consistently the sorcerer to his former apprentice, who's disappointed to routinely find himself a step behind. The teacher vs. student relationship here is not to be compared to the 1972 film "The Mechanic," which starred Charles Bronson and Jan-Michael Vincent, or the 2011 remake with Jason Statham and Ben Foster. The relationship between Devereaux and Mason is subordinate to the themes of deceit and double-cross that dominate the film.
Things don't really get nasty until Devereaux discovers Celia had a witness to Federov's war crimes. The witness, Alice, played innocently by Olga Kurylenko (a former 2008 Bond-girl from "Quantum of Solace"), not only witnessed Federov's war crimes, but she was also raped by him. To avoid discovery by Federov, Alice has been hiding in plain sight for years by adopting a fake identity as an activist for women abused by war. Again, themes of deceit and double-cross dominate the film. Initially unknown to the CIA, Federov has a stealthy Russian assassin, Alexa (played by former rhythmic gymnastics champion Amila Terzimehic of Bosnia and Herzegovina) to do his dirty work. Alexa does a great no-nonsense job of dispassionately killing anyone. Unfortunately, although the film built enough suspense for a climactic "nail bitting" brawl between Alexa and either Mason or Devereaux, film failed to deliver such to validate the hype built around Alexa's prowess as an assassin.
With CIA agents killing CIA agents and FSB Russian agents killing Russian agents, we don't know who to trust in this film. Devereaux's immediate boss, Hanley, appears to be on the up and up, but we're given to suspect that Hanley's by-the-numbers boss, Perry Weinstein (Will Patton) has his own duplicitous agenda. Through all the chaos and deceit Devereaux keeps his eyes on the prize, namely Alice's protection and the discovery of who was ultimately responsible for directing Federov to commit war crimes. This is understandable because whoever approved Federov's war crimes ultimately caused Celia's death, and Devereaux wanted vengence, because unknown to the CIA, he and Celia were more than just former lovers, they also shared a child together. Mason, frustrated by losing to his mentor at every turn, surprisingly captured Devereaux's daugher as ransom in exchange for Alice. From here, film builds to a exciting climax that's anchored to a few more double-crosses.
Just because Brosnan used to be James Bond, it's a major mistake to compare this film to any of the films in the Bond franchise, because "November Man" is grittier, faster paced, and harsh; conversely, the Bond films are slickly produced, gadget-driven, and intentionally over-the-top. One is not better than the other, just different. For example, a PG-13 James Bond would never intentionally cut the femural artery of an innocent woman just to taught his dim-witted apprentice; however, the R-rated Devereaux had absolutely no problem doing so. This film stands on its own.
Acting by all performers was solid, especially the constant befuddled look worn by Luke Bracey's "Mason." It would have been nice if more screen time had been given to Will Patton's "Weinstein," because his character appeared to have more depth. In the event of a sequel, Patton as the antagonist could easily hold his own with Brosnan, thereby making the film even better. If fact, given that this film is based on novelist Bill Granger's "There Are No Spies" book series, Brosnan should consider making this his film franchise and evolve a "seasoned" Devereaux beyond the age restrictions imposed by the James Bond franchise. Who better to become known as the "godfather" of spys than a former spy?
Director Roger Donaldson also directed Brosnan in "Dante's Peak (1997)," and he continues to capture Brosnan in close-ups that showcase the actors emotional intent and range. Briskly paced at 108 minutes, film editing by John Gilbert was crisp. Acknowledgement to Stefan Savkovic, costumes and wardrobe supervisor, for making Brosnan look like an adonis, and for packaging Olga Kurylenko in the shortest dress seen in any movie this year. Art, sound, visual, and special effects were also solid. Film successfully has a Slavic look-and-feel as a result of being filmed on location in Belgrade, Serbia.
Recommendation: See this film. Buy or rent the DVD/BlueRay or download the film when it becomes available.
One more thing, for those of you who refuse to consider Brosnan as anything other than James Bond, buy or rent "Seraphim Falls (2006)." It's an overlooked gem of a movie.