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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

November 21, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: Cumbersome narrative hinders high-octane spy thriller

"The November Man"

Directed by Roger Donaldson

After the U.S.–sanctioned assassination of his wife, ex-CIA agent Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan), also known as the November Man, violently equalizes the CIA team sent in to spy on the ordeal. In the chaos, he finds himself in a standoff with his former apprentice David Mason (Luke Bracey), whom he has personally trained as a ruthless weapon of the American government.

Based on the novel “There Are No Spies” by Bill Granger, “The November Man” follows Devereaux as he is recruited once more by his former boss John Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) and tasked with escorting social worker Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko) out of Russia. Fournier is the key to obtaining powerful information crucial to the ruin of Russian presidential candidate Arkady Federov’s (Lazar Ristovski) campaign. The pair subsequently becomes a target of Federov’s hired hit man, in addition to Mason on behalf of the CIA.

While the film successfully satisfies the car chase, sex and explosions quota without going overboard, the overall action sequences are mild at best. Audiences expecting to see breathtaking, mindless destruction and professional choreography, as well as Brosnan living up to his James Bond expectations, will sadly get a middling man in a suit walking around pulling a trigger. There are about as many gunfights in this movie as there are cellphone conversations, which is to say that one finds characters speaking on the phone more often than they should be.

In addition, moviegoers will have to make an effort to pay close attention to the film’s plot. Very quickly, it unfolds into a complicated web of betrayal, government conspiracy, identity change and political and moral controversy. Perhaps the most mentally taxing part of watching the movie is figuring out whose side to root for. Throughout the film, both Devereaux and Mason show compassion, while inexplicably also showing the capacity to murder in cold blood. One can obviously see that Federov is the “big, bad Russian antagonist,” but they will find themselves not knowing who is the good guy.

Unfortunately, the complexity of the plot seems to hamper character development. With the exception of Devereaux and Mason, the cast gives nothing but one-sided performances. Thus, the director, Roger Donaldson, has crafted a cliche spy drama instead of a human drama. This lack of characterization could have been remedied by removing the more unnecessary parts of the movie, such as Federov’s not-at-all-threatening assassin and the investigative journalist whose plotline ends too quickly and unrealistically.

Each character sticks to just one emotion, which is either anger or cold seriousness. There is no warming humor, save for the occasional comedic sigh that Mason gives every time he finds his neighbor’s cat in his house. Such a delicate balance of ups and downs is how these characters are supposed to enrich the movie, but instead the audience is subjected dreary, uninspired acting all the way to the film’s end.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t redeeming qualities in “The November Man.” The script makes for a wonderful slew of spy one-liners that flow well from character to character. In addition, the suspense is plentiful enough to always renew the audience’s sense of excitement, notably for the exceptional subplot, which takes a look at the love-hate dynamic between Devereaux and Mason that adds an almost father-son element to their relationship. Most of the film’s theatrical worth lies in the master and protege’s desperate attempts to understand each other while racing against the clock.

“The November Man” is the film to see for moviegoers who don’t have a problem with countless guns, car chases, spy language and action movie stereotypes. Though there is theatrical merit shared by a few scenes, it’s easy to get lost in the story, and ultimately, “The November Man” is a cinematic example of when action becomes old and cumbersome.