Nothing really struck my fancy this week, even though I had three weeks of new releases to pick from. I guess the summer season is over. The trailer for November Man wasn’t inspiring – sort of a Spy Game redo with Pierce Brosnan as the trainer and some new guy as the trainee. Don’t fall in love, etc. etc. But I picked that one anyway and it turned out the trailer didn’t do it justice.
A retired CIA agent is pitted against his former student as he tries to find a missing woman before the CIA can use her to control the next Russian president.
Action-thrillers like Taken that pretend to be smart and complicated but are actually just about throat chopping are all the rage these days. What I like about The November Man is that you get the visceral throat-chopping satisfaction but with actual intelligence, complex characters, and plot twists.
Pierce Brosnan plays Peter Deveraux whose ‘November Man’ nickname isn’t even mentioned until the end of the movie (apparently he makes everything dead). We start off with Devereaux training young David Mason (Luke Bracey) on an active mission that effectively establishes both their characters. Mason’s a doer. He’s all about getting the job done to please the brass. Deveraux is a thinker. He stops to ask ‘why’ and ‘what will happen if…?’
What will happen if our boss tells you to kill me?
The mission goes south, the pair split up, and we fast-forward five years. Deveraux owns a coffee shop in Serbia and his former CIA pal Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) comes around asking for help bringing in an asset. Natalia (Mediha Musliovic) is close to Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski), a former Russian general in line to be the next president. But he’s got a dark past related to the Chechen war, and she’s got proof.
One last mission… only you can do it… save the world… etc. etc.
Natalia gets burned, the Russians are after her, and in the ensuing chaos, CIA boss Perry Weinstein (Will Patton) orders Mason to take Natalya out. Deveraux has no intention of ever forgiving Mason or the CIA and decides to find the proof of Federov’s evilness before they do. On account of the proof is a refugee woman named Mila, and with everyone in the CIA so trigger-happy, there’s no guarantee she won’t get shot too.
“Hey, why ARE we shooting our own assets?” is what you should be asking, David Mason.
And just to make things more complicated, a reporter named Edgar Simpson (Patrick Kennedy) also wants to use Mila to get the dirt on Federov and Federov has sent an assassin (Amila Terzimehic) after Mila to make sure she can’t talk.
Girl assassin. Cool!
Their only connection to Mila is Alice (Olga Kurylenko) the social worker who helped resettle her after she escaped from Chechnya, so commence chase scenes in which the Big Bad Spy drags the Reluctant Woman through street markets and stuff trying to escape the bad guys.
Where are we going… come with me if you want to live… etc. etc.
If this was The Bourne Legacy they would keep running until the movie stopped, but it’s not, so Devereaux uses his mad spy mentoring skills to turn the tables on the CIA. Suddenly he’s the hunter, not the hunted, and things are getting really interesting, because there’s a bad seed in the CIA who is trying to cover up his/her role in Federov’s misdeeds, and we don’t know who it is, because suddenly everyone is suspicious of everyone else and has their own agenda.
We should sit around in this office that everyone knows you work in and think about it!
I was ready to praise the movie for not having Alice fall in love with Deveraux like every rescued heroine in every action movie ever, but then whoops! They tripped and fell into bed, so I had to scratch out my comments. However, Alice isn’t as helpless as you might expect from a pawn in a spy game as portrayed by Hollywood, which I appreciated.
Assassinate this, bitch!
I also really like that the big conspiracy the plot revolves around is not on the Salt/Shadow Recruit Cold War Mark II bandwagon, pitting Russia as a villain working to destroy the United States. Like politics today, November Man is more complicated than country vs country. It’s Russia vs Chechnya vs the USA in Serbia by way of who can you control with the right information?
Excuse me, but do you know of any war crimes I can write about?
And then, of course, there’s the complex relationship between Devereaux and Mason. Mason’s on point in the hunt for Devereaux. Devereaux wants to kill Mason for killing Natalia, but also perversely is still teaching him how to be a good spy and how to think for himself. Mason is pissed that Devereaux thinks he’s a blunt instrument whose skills aren’t up to snuff, but still perversely wants to please his old teacher.
MASON: Will it please you if I succeed in putting a bullet in your face, old man?
DEVEREAUX: It might.
On the whole, I really liked The November Man. It’s not perfect – there are still a few ‘wtf’ and ‘oh come on’ moments and the Alice/Devereaux bed thing doesn’t seem to fit – but it was smart, complicated, and different enough to keep me interested. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes spy movies or thrillers but despairs of the simplistic stuff we’re being fed these days.