Retired CIA agent Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) is lured back into the spy game when he learns a former girlfriend uncovered evidence connecting a Russian presidential candidate to crimes committed during the Chechen war. Alas, Devereaux's attempt to extract the woman from a deadly situation ends tragically when she is shot dead by a CIA team led by his one-time protégé, Mason (Luke Bracey). Spurred by their past kinship the now rival agents spare each other's lives. Thereafter Devereaux tracks down social worker Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko) who knows the whereabouts of a former war refugee and prostitute whose testimony could land the war criminal in jail. Using all his wits and still-sharp spy skills, Devereaux tries to protect her from both the CIA and a ruthless Russian lady assassin whilst also looking for revenge against a traitor in the government.
More than a decade on from a somewhat underrated tenure as James Bond, 007, Pierce Brosnan returned to the espionage game. Paired ironically with former post-Brosnan era Bond girl Olga Kurylenko in a film adapted from another series of bestselling spy novels. Written by Bill Granger (not to be confused with the affable Aussie TV chef), The November Man was the seventh literary outing for hero Peter Devereaux, drawn here as a surly, cynical, embittered antidote to the star's more refined Bond persona. He is also as close to uncouth as an old smoothie like Brosnan can get. The former Bond still cuts quite a dash in the action scenes, dispatching oily Euro-trash villains with brutal efficiency, and commands the screen with that familiar charisma. Yet the characterization of Devereaux as both fiercely moral (in attempting to prevent innocent death) and casually amoral for the sake of self-interest (later purposefully threatening an innocent) treads an uneasy line between relevant ambiguity and plain inconsistent. Indeed taken as a whole The November Man falls somewhat awkwardly between two stools, delving admirably into the complex geopolitical manoeuvring that underlies these action packed spy games without quite sidestepping the glamour and gloss of Bond or the Mission: Impossible franchise. Or matching the gritty edge of the Jason Bourne films.
Roger Donaldson, reuniting with Brosnan after the far sillier disaster film Dante's Peak (1996), keeps the suspense sequences moving at a fair clip albeit without much panache. The first third jumps around in time going to elaborate lengths to establish an agreeably complex plot and tangled character relations. Unfortunately midway the film veers off on tangents that sap momentum. One of these is the Sam Peckinpah/John Woo-esque fraternal bond between cocky youth Mason and seasoned pro Devereaux. A significant portion of the story ponders whether Mason is a remorseless assassin or has some semblance of a humanity hitherto unglimpsed by his mentor. Yet neither the vague script nor Luke Bracey's laconic machismo make much of this supposed inner conflict. Brosnan, who also co-produced the film, clearly relishes the chance to delve into morally murky territory. However, while The November Man deals with weighty subjects like sex trafficking and a nefarious alliance between organized crime, Russian oligarchs and the CIA (unusually the hero is out to keep the villain from ending the Cold War), it also exhibits a streak of seediness and nastiness closer to exploitation cinema. With very un-Bond like gratuitous nudity and sex scenes.
Going some ways to counterbalancing the lead's macho gamesmanship the underrated Olga Kurylenko essays an improbably gorgeous social worker with a hidden agenda. Naturally the plot also requires she also go undercover as a call girl in a sexy dress and scarlet wig in order to entrap the villain. Fans are unlikely to complain and the actress more than capably handles both contradictory aspects of her character. Including a subplot and suspense scene that surely must have given Kurylenko serious deja-vu in the wake of Quantum of Solace (2008).