There are plenty of actors who cobble together successful careers, following a now-traditional path – struggle early, move up on the ladder a bit, hit it big, then fade late.
Pierce Brosnan is one of those.
Brosnan, 61, rose from humble made-for-TV movies to a hit TV show, “Remington Steele” in 1982. His film credits include “The Lawnmower Man” in 1992 and “Mrs. Doubtfire” in ’93 before his debut as James Bond in “Goldeneye” in 1994. He made three other Bond movies, as well as “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” “Mars Attacks!” and “Dante’s Peak.”
Add in a very good remake of “The Thomas Crowne Affair” in 1999, the critically-acclaimed “The Tailor of Panama” in 2001, and the unexpected hit “Mamma Mia!” in 2008, and he’s had a nice career.
“The November Man” is not a hit, but it’s a throwback to the old-school espionage/spy movies of the ’70s – classics like “Three Days of the Condor” (1975) and “Marathon Man” (1976). “November” isn’t nearly as good as those, but it has its moments.
The plot (convoluted, with spoilers)
Devereaux (Brosnan) is an aging CIA man. He’s contacted by an old agency pal, Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) to work one more case.
An agent has discovered a person whose revelation can change the upcoming Russian presidential election and, hence, the flow of power in the world. Brosnan is charged with getting that agent safely out.
It does not go well. So, when Brosnan wreaks revenge on Moscow streets, he comes face-to-face with a younger man he once trained, then washed out, Mason (Luke Bracey).
The race is on between the Russians, the CIA (led by Bracey), and Brosnan to find the woman who holds the key to everything. Brosnan beats them to a go-between, Alice (Olga Kurylenko), and they are constantly being set upon, barely escaping.
In Belgrade, Brosnan finally pieces together what’s going on, and, with Kurylenko, discovers a CIA secret they did not expect. Neither did Bracey.
But Brosnan’s in a bad way when a family member gets kidnapped. The essential intel is discovered, but it may have to be eradicated in a trade-off.
Things work out so that that does not have to happen.
Brosnan is super – squinty-eyed and serious enough that you believe it when he says he’ll kill you. (Plus there’s that unconscious Bond connection.)
Director Roger Donaldson, who also directed “Dante’s Peak,” forgoes the computer generation route of fake explosions and car crashes and uses the real thing. It was nice to see a thinking-man’s “action” movie again.
He also darkens the movie, making it look more ’70s with a resemblance to old film stock. That vibe continues with the twists and turns the story makes – even if cell phones and flash drives fill in for old phone booths and microfiche.
Most of the other actors are not familiar and that helps the story line. Will Patton is the only other guy normal moviegoers will recognize.
BEST SCENE (SPOILER)
Bracey has fallen for the woman across the hall. Brosnan, who wants to avenge what Bracey did in Moscow, snatches the woman from Bracey’s bed and holds her hostage at the kitchen table.
Brosnan forces Bracey to make a decision – save his new lover or capture/kill Brosnan. It’s the strongest scene in the movie.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK
The biggie is when Kurylenko finally has the evil Russian presidential-hopeful in her clutches and develops “can’t-pull-the-trigger” syndrome. It’s completely unbelievable.
There are some lines of dialogue that are so bad they stick out. And veteran spy movie fans will see right through “November” – it’s highly cliched.
A Russian assassin keeps popping up, but she (yes, she) is barely established and you know she’s not going to succeed.
There is zero humor here, something those old 70’s thrillers knew was important.
“November” earns its R. There’s enough blood and violence to get close and a strip club scene and a sequence of sensuality combine with plenty of language to push it into R territory.
Brosnan and the old style of filmmaking made “November” better than recent spy thrillers. But it’s not one you’ll remember the next day.
The Movie Man might hunt down “Boyhood.”