3.5 stars. Rated R, for violence, rape, profanity, sexuality and brief drug use
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 8.29.14
I always enjoy a well-crafted spy thriller, and this one’s a romp.
Australian director Roger Donaldson knows the territory, having delivered a twisty espionage thriller back in 1987, with his adaptation of Kenneth Fearing’s No Way Out. It remains one of star Kevin Costner’s best early films, thanks in great part to its didn’t-see-that-coming finale.
Donaldson’s handling of The November Man is cut from similar cloth, with scripters Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek delivering an engaging spin on a cherry-picked entry in the late journalist-turned-novelist Bill Granger’s 13-book Devereaux series, which began with 1979’s The November Man and concluded with 1993’s Burning the Apostle. This film’s title notwithstanding, however, it’s based not on Granger’s first Deveraux book, but on the seventh, There Are No Spies.
That said, Finch and Gajdusek’s screenplay more honestly is “flavored” by Granger’s book, with numerous changes obviously intended to satisfy action-oriented audiences. The result is reasonably entertaining in a fast-paced “airplane movie” sort of way, with star Pierce Brosnan ideally cast as a cynical, world-weary spy dragged out of semi-retirement to fix another mess involving the CIA, a corrupt Russian presidential candidate, a lethal assassin, and a possible traitor within the CIA’s highest echelons.
Although obviously aiming for the cerebral atmosphere of 1960s cold-war movie classics such as The Ipcress File and The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, Donaldson doesn’t hit that target too often; he more frequently mines the who-can-be-trusted territory of 1975’s Three Days of the Condor, with a strong nod toward the mentor/protégé relationship at the heart of 2001’s Spy Game.
And heck, we’ve got a cast that include a former James Bond (Brosnan) and a former Bond babe (Olga Kurylenko, from Quantum of Solace). How can it miss?
Mostly, it doesn’t. With a few stiff caveats.
Devereaux and junior partner David Mason (Australian up-and-comer Luke Bracey) are introduced in a 2008 prologue, working a mission that goes pear-shaped when the younger operative fails to heed his mentor’s stern instructions. The anguish and disappointment are clear on Devereaux’s face; the kid has blown it, obviously dashing the older agent’s faith in him.