Sunday 7 June 2020

Movie Review: The November Man (2014)

An espionage action thriller, The November Man skips over logic gaps to extract satisfying thrills from a suitably complex story.

In 2008, CIA agent Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) and his protege David Mason (Luke Bracey) have a falling out after a botched job in Montenegro. Five years later, Peter is recruited by his former boss John Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) to extract would-be defector and Peter's ex-lover Natalia (Mediha Musliović) from Moscow. She has information compromising Russia's next leader Federov (Lazar Ristovski), related to his history during the Chechen wars.

The Moscow mission goes badly, with Peter and David landing on opposite sides. Natalia's information leads to Belgrade and the hunt for missing ex-refugee Mira Filipova. To find her Peter connects with refugee case worker Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko). Meanwhile New York Times reporter Simpson (Patrick Kennedy) is interested in Federov's history, while lethal assassin Alexa (Amila Terzimehić) is terminating everyone connected to the future President's sordid past.

An adaptation of the book There Are No Spies by Bill Granger, The November Man finds star Pierce Brosnan returning to James Bond-style spy action. The title refers to the bleak annihilation Peter Devereaux leaves behind, and this is a gadget-free, more gritty story of dirty global plotting for geopolitical gain. Director Roger Donaldson deserves credit for adopting straight-ahead, maintain-the-momentum pacing while keeping the multi-dimensional and fairly convoluted plot well within coherence limits.

Combining personal vendettas with mission-driven objectives, the action scenes are frequent but short, offering fairly standard thrills at a human scale with the added blessing of rational editing. Belgrade is the main setting and Donaldson makes good use of the city with brisk and bright location work.

The plot features no shortage of twists and turns, some pleasing if predictable and others outright absurd. Admirably avoiding a bland MacGuffin, The November Man is propelled by the grim history of the Chechen wars, the refugee and human trafficking crisis, the atrocities of civilian massacres and the rape and abuse of young women in the shadow of conflict. And the script, co-written by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek, expounds on the dark dilemmas inherent in the sometimes contradictory pursuits of justice and long-term global influence.

Pierce Brosnan cuts through the action exuding definitive confidence and little else. Luke Bracey follows suit, a younger version of the same. Olga Kurylenko bursts into prominence late on with a lethal disguise, while Bill Smitrovich adds good texture to the role of Hanley, the CIA man deeply embroiled in international, across-the-decades machinations. 

The November Man is rarely original, but fulfils the mission objectives with credible efficiency.

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