As we try to navigate our way through an increasingly complex world where the line between those sworn to protect and those who wish to destroy becomes ever blurrier, it makes sense that the movies in our cineplexes reflect that reality. And while that can lead to masterpieces painted in shades of grey (No Country […]
As we try to navigate our way through an increasingly complex world where the line between those sworn to protect and those who wish to destroy becomes ever blurrier, it makes sense that the movies in our cineplexes reflect that reality. And while that can lead to masterpieces painted in shades of grey (No Country for Old Men) it can also lead to crude finger paintings like The November Man, a movie that wants to operate as a Jason Bourne movie, where instead of having the protagonist struggling to remember his past, he tries to forget it one finger of whiskey at a time. Pierce Brosnan plays the grizzled Reese Novemberman (actually Peter Devereaux, but who cares), ostensibly our hero despite his penchant for slashing the femoral arteries of innocent bystanders to teach valuable life lessons. After getting out of the CIA game and opening up a little Swiss café, he’s drawn back into a web of deceit that involves a potential Russian president, his former protégé (Luke Bracey) who now is hunting him on this globe-trotting journey and a social services worker (Olga Kurylenko) who has information about CIA involvement in the Chechen War, which leads to a Russian assassin (Amila Terzimehić) being sent out to eliminate this threat.
Lot of plates to spin, and while Roger Donaldson does have an ability to lense action in such ways that the impact of the fights and car crashes (and shovel-assisted face smashes) are visceral and felt, he is less deft at explaining the geopolitical stakes at play here, which is problematic when the personal portion of the drama give way to the big picture stuff early on in the picture. I genuinely could not understand the stakes at one point until a character helpfully laid them out explicitly a few moments later. Brosnan acquits himself nicely in the lead, bringing the baggage as only a former Bond can to the role of a secret agent in his twilight years, coping with his actions through a steady stream of alcohol. The rest of the cast is less successful in carving out a niche for themselves here – in the case of the few women with prominent roles, it’s more a case of them being written as sexual pawns in the misogynistic chess game the film plays than any problems with their performances. Veteran actor Bill Smitrovich plays an upper brass CIA operative, and there’s an appeal to his increasingly reptilian performance, but the fact his early sexualized derisive comments toward a female operative are played as laugh lines suggests a film that doesn’t realize how freely it diminishes an entire gender throughout.
I see the appeal of a film like this. We live in an era of well-earned government distrust, and the idea that one well-trained man can outsmart and outmaneuver an entire covert agency bogged down by bureaucratic inefficiency,yet still able to carry out widespread global conspiracies, will operate like catnip to the Bundy Ranch set, even if it the end result leaves me cold. But more problematic is the fact that the film wants to operate as a crowd-pleasing action picture and operate in the moral muck at the same time. There’s a reason Syriana cast George Clooney in the lead instead of Steven Seagal, and The November Man would’ve been better suited had it understood why.