It’s gotta be tough to be a former James Bond. Playing Bond? That’s a dream job involving international celebrity, the most expensive cars, a wardrobe of only the finest suits, and a new famous beauty for arm candy every couple of years. The trouble is that you can’t play Bond forever and pretty much from the moment anyone tires of the iconic role and leaves the martini behind, they’re career gets rough. There is a lone exception to the rule in Sean Connery of course, but to be fair he is Sean Connery. Beyond that, it’s been a rough ride for all the former Bonds and that’s been especially true of Pierce Brosnan.
He brought Bond back in the 90s after a decade of audience indifference and his biggest role since then? Mama Mia (shudder). Like Roger Moore before him, it’s just hard to see Brosnan in anything and not think of Bond, which I suppose is why the folks behind November Man decided to cast him. Brosnan plays an aging spy in the movie, so for once his Bond baggage works to the movie’s advantage. Shame about the movie itself though.
Since we live in the post-Expendables age of aging action stars, Brosnan slides into the role of a grizzled veteran training a young punk spy (Luke Bracey) in a prologue until things go drastically wrong. The kind of wrong that leads to lifelong feuds. That was supposed to be Brosnan’s last job, but flash-forward a few years and his former boss (Bill Smitrovich) shows up begging for Brosnan to take one more gig tracking down a mysterious Russian citizen. Pierce is of course wary of the job, but accepts it and soon finds that the citizen he’s tracking down is the beautiful Olga Kurylenko (a former Bond girl in Quantum Of Solace) and then learns that Bracey is on his tail as well. So, it’s old-versus-young spy game with an old timey Cold War backdrop for a movie just as out of date as it sounds. Reviving 80s action movie tropes is nothing new these days, so the filmmakers try to make all the stock story beats feel fresh by infusing the moral ambiguity and handheld camera of the Bourne Identity movies to the proceedings. It’s a hodgepodge of scenes and ideas that worked better in previous movies with little purpose in this round. It’s not horrible, just deeply mediocre.
“You’ll get what you paid for, but then you’ll stumble out of the theater wondering why you wanted that in the first place.”
The mediocrity of November Man should have been easily predicted given that the movie comes from director Roger Donaldson (Cocktail, Species, Dante’s Peak) who specializes in the mediocre. He is a perfectly serviceable craftsman, so the movie is never boring or abysmal. It works well enough for what it is, it just never offers anything unexpected. Would you like to see some explosions? You’ll get em. How about gun fights? Covered. Maybe a little scantily clad posturing from the lady lead? It’s there. Brosnan busts out his old charm and adds a little grit under his fingernails as a man permanently scarred by his job. He’s the best thing in the movie. Bracey is so bland that there’s never a moment where the audience could possibly be on his side rather than Brosnan’s even though they are supposed to. Kurylenko sure is pretty, yet never does anything resembling acting. She models with dialogue. Smitrovich is admittedly quite good as well, bursting out from a career of boring boss roles to play a genuine heavy and loving every minute of it. Too bad that the actor finally got a chance to show off his skills in a movie so forgettable that no one will ever notice.
Donaldson has managed to make a spy movie that offers absolutely everything that you expect from the genre and yet feels completely tired and dull. Maybe it’s just because these sorts of movies have been made so many times and in so many ways that filmmakers have to deliver something truly special for it to register at all. Or maybe it’s just the Bond problem. When you see a Bond actor in a spy movie, you expect a Bond caliber production. November Man certainly doesn’t register at that level. It’s not a movie that you call really full-on hate though. It’s competently made. The action is swiftly paced and consistent. The plot twists, turns, and doubles back on itself before landing on an inevitably obvious conclusion. You’ll get what you paid for, but then you’ll stumble out of the theater wondering why you wanted that in the first place.