“The November Man” is Perfect for Late August (Which Means It’s Not That Great)

November Man

The November Man (Roger Donaldson, 2014)

The last two weeks have seen the usual weak roster of films that studios tend to release in late August, before the autumn slate of Oscar contenders come out. The summer blockbusters are done, and now we must bide our time until the anticipated return of quality (we hope). After If I Stay and When the Game Stands Tall, we now get The November Man, from Australian-born New Zealand director Roger Donaldson, a man who in the past has given us such reasonably competent thrillers as No Way OutDante’s Peak (which, like this new film, starred Pierce Brosnan), Thirteen Days and – my favorite among them – The Bank Job. Unfortunately, The November Man is neither reasonable nor competent. It is, upon occasion, a lot of fun – if you don’t mind senseless violence and gaping plot holes – which elevates it above pure stinker level. That’s not much, but at least it’s something.

The film sees Brosnan – 12 years after his last outing as James Bond, in Die Another Day – return to action-movie form as a former CIA operative (with, somehow, an unexplained British accent) with an axe to grind with his ex-employer and ex-trainee (now promoted to full operative status). Brosnan – except for a few scenes in which he overdoes the hand-wipe-over-brow to indicate stress – is terrific, and it’s a joy to see how much he’s still got it. Unfortunately, Luke Bracey (G.I. Joe: Retaliation), as his protégé, is anything but terrific. In fact, he’s dull, dull, and then dull. Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace, where she starred opposite Brosnan’s replacement as Bond, Daniel Craig) livens things up a bit, but no one next to Brosnan is as entertaining as unknown Bosnian gymnast Amila Terzimehic as a Russian assassin whose body is as flexible as it is deadly. Too bad she’s not in the movie for more than a few minutes.

To describe the plot would be a wasted venture, as very little of it makes sense. The various secret services are alternately super-efficient and bungling, and people are killed throughout – in glorious bloody close-up – with neither reason nor sense. The car chases and action sequences, however, are staged well, and when Brosnan is one the move, too distracted by bullets to wipe that brow, he’s a powerfully kinetic force that must be watched. Idiocy, slaughter and proficiently managed mayhem: if that’s your thing, you’ll enjoy at least parts of the film.

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