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Thursday, August 28, 2014

The November Man Review: Retired Bond Makes Divisive Action Flick

Summer 2014 ends with the divisive The November Man.
The was a time in American cinema when audiences would pay to see almost anything starring an action hero. But in recent years, we've undergone a sea change in our expectations; our movie tastes have evolved from the simple 2-Buck-Chuck to a smoother Cabernet, leaving those rather mindless 80's pieces behind in place of something deeper and more gritty. Certainly the performance of The Expendables 3, Need for Speed, and a half-dozen 2013 action/spy/thriller flicks have shown Hollywood how evolved/fickle American audiences can be. As Summer 2014 comes to a close, we have one more chance to see this theory play out in the enjoyable but divisive The November Man.

Former CIA operative Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) has tried to put that part of his life away, favoring the quiet life instead of bullets, explosions, and tough choices at the end of a barrel. His protégée Mason (Luke Bracey) has carried on the good work, but it's come at a great cost to Devereaux. Soon, he is forced back into action on a very personal mission when the deal goes bad. Now on the run and with limited options, Devereaux runs into Mason, who's searching for a Russian aid worker (Olga Kurylenko) with information that could blow Russia's upcoming election apart. As master and student play a deadly game of chicken, both learn of a deep cover-up within the CIA that could involve Devereaux's old boss (Bill Smithrovich) or his new one (Will Patton)...or maybe both. Will the two spies join forces one more time to make things right, or will their hatred for one another lead to a bloody conclusion?

Veteran Director Roger Donaldson (White Sands, Thirteen Days) paints pretty pictures - some wrapped in dreamy backgrounds surrounded by gritty poses - but never quite gets to the heart of the matter. There's plenty to fuel our leads, but the editing comes away uneven, portraying Devereaux as almost bi-polar, worried about collateral damage in one scene and then willing to be unnecessarily cold-blooded to prove a point in the very next one. Moreover, we never learn why he chooses a personal life that he previously admonishes so much to Mason. None of our supporting cast comes away especially memorable, and some including Smitrovich even seem to experience conflicting character growth by the third act, with Handley suddenly replacing another character who clearly seemed in charge, and with only a "He's been replaced" explanation. Another major character's future is certainly in doubt by the time the credits roll, but we're never privy to what that actually is.

And yet, I found myself willing to look past these problems and enjoy the film for what it was. Brosnan and Bracey have good chemistry, chewing up good one-liners from the writing team of Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek, who adopted Novelist Bill Granger's seventh novel about the titular hero. The action is steady and impacting in parts, while Composer Marco Beltrami's score keeps the tension going during several slower parts. There are two twists here that might surprise you, depending on how willing you were to check your expectations at the door. If you do, they'll come off nicely and keep you awake though a lot of exposition and typical bad guy stereotypes.

The November Man is a fitting end to one of the dullest Augusts in recent film memory. Two kinds of people will no doubt emerge from the theater: those who enjoyed its high-flying style, good performances from Brosnan and Bracey, and its twist-twist ending. The other will decry the ripped-off plot, fairly dull action, and failure to achieve closure on most of its leads. But for the most part, hasn't such division defined Summer 2014 in general? Either way, I encourage you to check expectations at the door, for your experience will no doubt be improved.

The November Man is rated R for strong violence including sexual assault, language, sexuality/nudity and brief drug use and has a runtime of 108 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


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