There are many problems with modern film. I won’t bore you with a complete list, but I will offer up Roger Donaldson’s The November Man as a fine example of a handful of them. That’s certainly the most use anyone can expect from a movie so intrinsically exhausted. The idea behind this whole creation — something that’s infinitely frustrating — is that some people spent millions of dollars to make a retread spy flick, one with no originality and a director at the helm who had a hit with Cocktail (1988) a quarter century ago, and who has mostly sputtered around to varying degrees of mediocrity ever since. Many people thought making this movie was a good idea, and some even thought it might have some value beyond being just a tax write-off. I looked at the cast and crew before watching the thing and knew the best I could hope for was mildly boring and didn’t even get that.
The plot’s barely worth laying out, with Pierce Brosnan playing a retired spy who gets pulled back into service, goes rogue and must untangle a convoluted scheme involving Russians, the CIA, war crimes, assassins and his former protégé (Luke Bracey). At its foundation, at least, the movie’s trading on Brosnan once playing James Bond, a fact that really adds to the movie and that Donaldson does nothing with. Despite Brosnan having already made two films in his career (John Boorman’s The Tailor of Panama (2001) and Richard Shepard’s The Matador (2006)) that astutely play off his history as 007, it would seem the obvious route to take. But no, Donaldson’s more interested in doing a by-the-book spy flick á la the Bourne series — unfortunately with zero understanding of what made that series so interesting to begin with, thinking that if he puts enough car chases and gunfights in between Brosnan orating goofy nonsense, he’ll stumble upon something heavy.
Part of the problem is Donaldson’s insistence on cranking up the bloodshed and removing any semblance of sympathy from the movie as a substitute for grit or realism. Nearly every character is somehow miserable, unlikable or abhorently violent, awash in goofy machismo. The idea that Brosnan’s Devereaux is some sort of hero is quickly forgotten as he goes around shooting everyone in his way and, eventually, cutting the femoral artery on a nurse as a means of escape. The dopey-faced, walking-J. Crew-catalogue Bracey, who — in theory at least — plays the film’s other “hero,” the assassin Mason, shoots a kid in the first 10 minutes of the movie. People get maimed and shot in slow motion, with fountains of blood spewing across the screen in the most humorless of fashion — and it all has the feeling of window dressing, a means of distracting from how basic the rest of the movie is. I’m no prude when it comes to movies, but violence has to have a purpose on-screen. For The November Man, it’s just a symbol of meatheadedness. And it still can’t stop the movie from being pointless and unentertaining. Rated R for strong violence including a sexual assault, language, sexuality/nudity and brief drug use.