Mark Reviews Movies

The November Man


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Roger Donaldson

Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Bill Smitrovich, Amila Terzimehic, Lazar Ristovski, Will Patton, Eliza Taylor, Caterina Scorsone, Akie Kotabe, Patrick Kennedy, Mediha Musliovic

MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence including a sexual assault, language, sexuality/nudity and brief drug use)

Running Time: 1:48

Release Date: 8/27/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 27, 2014

There is a great amount of confusion about the central character in The November Man, which is quite at odds with the character himself. Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) knows exactly who he is, and he is not the agreeable, sensitive, or sympathetic sort. He is a hardened killer with little to no regard for human life. "You can be a human or a killer of humans," Devereaux tells his former trainee, who also happens to be the man hunting him; "One extinguishes the other." Whether or not this statement is true is a question best left to the philosophers and psychologists, but what's important is that Devereaux believes it. He chose the latter option and appears quite comfortable with the choice. The confusion belongs to the movie, which is quite uncomfortable letting its main character be who he is.

At one moment, Devereaux is a remorseless man, gunning down hordes of nameless and faceless agents from the United States and Russia in his non-specific quest for vengeance, the truth, or some combination of the two. He doesn't ask any questions of his targets before he shoots them or of himself after he has done so. He just points and pulls the trigger. There's a moment where he lets out a husky guffaw while toying with the man in charge of the team hunting him, and we start to wonder if he doesn't really enjoy these games of death.

At other moments, though, we're expected to find sympathy for this man. Devereaux has a family of sorts. He protects the victim of a Russian politician at the possible expense of his own life. Even to his former trainee Mason (Luke Bracey)—the man who is hunting him—Devereaux sees himself as a teacher—an example of how not to live. He's been there, done that, and only has a scarred soul to show for it. Surely, he only wants the younger agent to realize the cost of the path they have chosen, and if the kid isn't smart enough to figure out, well then, it seems that Devereaux will just have to kill him.

There is enough inconsistency in the portrayal of the character here that there are times we expect Devereaux to emerge as the full-blown villain of his own story. Yes, there's a plot involving the CIA trying to foster American interests in Russia by hiding the horrendous past of the man who has all but secured his election as the country's next president, but when it comes to that storyline, the screenplay by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek (based on Bill Granger's book There Are No Spies) teases us with red herrings and purposefully confounding political intrigue. We're not supposed to understand the meaning and culprits behind the mystery guiding the plot until the last possible moment, so of course our focus is instead on Devereaux.

After a botched protection mission in which Mason accidentally killed a child while shooting an assassin, Devereaux has been retired from the CIA for five years. His old boss Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) wants him to go to Moscow to recover an undercover agent who has discovered damning evidence against Federov (Lazar Ristovski), who is expected to win the upcoming presidential election.

Natalia (Mediha Musliovic), the agent who also has a past with Devereaux, gives him the name of a missing Chechnyan refugee before being killed by a CIA team led by Mason. After killing the team but sparing Mason, Devereaux tracks the name to Alice (Olga Kurylenko), a social worker who might know where the refugee is.

There is much more to the whole affair, including a curious journalist (Patrick Kennedy), a female assassin (Amila Terzimehic) hired by Federov, and a wily CIA head (Will Patton) who seems too eager to eliminate anyone with or searching for the truth. The plot is bogged down by inevitable revelations and throwaway characters, and even director Roger Donaldson seems exasperated keeping track of the whole thing (There's a scene in which a villain is revealed by name, and Donaldson stages it with Devereaux holding up a photo of two suspects so that the accuser can point out which one isn't the red herring).

Of course, the plot is only an excuse to allow Devereaux free rein to go about his confused business. In one scene, he gambles with the life of an innocent woman—slitting her femoral artery and running away—in the hopes that Mason has learned something (It's telling that the victim is never seen again, and it's also revealing that Alice is almost immediately reduced to a damsel in distress after being provided an opportunity for empowerment). The act, which combines his odd sense of moralizing with his disregard for human life, isn't the work of a hero; it's the deed of a sociopath.

If that's who Devereaux is, that's fine from a narrative standpoint (Some of the movie's better moments come when it embraces that), but there's no consistency here. The November Man is wishy-washy about him, assuming his "soft underbelly" will trump the less appealing aspects of the character. The man knows who he is; the movie wants to have him both ways.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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