There’s a moment in the first half of The November Man when Pierce Brosnan’s Peter Devereaux is having a tense conversation with his former protégée David Mason (Luke Bracey) and he says “You can either be a human or a killer of humans” and that’s a cool line and it caps off a tense scene but it has nothing at all to do with anything that happens in the film. Instead The November Man is a movie that strings together a number of spy-action clichés to make a movie that isn’t unenjoyable by any means but doesn’t provide anything particularly original. It’s as if Brosnan, an executive producer on this movie, has spent the years since he exited the Bond franchise watching all of the spy movies he could find with a notebook trying to find a way back in to the genre that left him behind.
There are some great sequences in this film. Brosnan doesn’t, and maybe never did, have the physicality to be a believable action hero in this day and age but they structure things very well so he can be the smartest guy in the movie and he can do things by being in the right place and by getting the jump on people. It’s a little bit like The Bourne Identity crossed with a Droopy cartoon but I mean that in the most flattering way possible. Younger men run around and do little bits of parkour and whatnot and when they get to a corner Brosnan is there to hit them in the face with a pipe or a shovel or his elbow or whatever. It’s a breath of fresh air after watching Sylvester Stallone and Harrison Ford pretend they could keep up with 20 year-olds two weeks ago.
The plot is nonsense. There are dialogue scenes to keep the action scenes apart but there’s no rhyme or reason and a disregard for continuity even from scene to scene. There is a sequence late in the film where a young girl is kidnapped and it’s enough to make the younger agent to question his loyalty to the CIA but he saves those reservations for way after he kidnaps the girl with no apparent reservation off screen. Devereaux is alternatively all about not having attachment to anyone who can be used against him and having tons and tons of friends and assorted other allies. He even picks up more along the way. The movie also features an astounding amount of violence to seemingly innocent people without asking us to take anyone to task for it. Brosnan cuts the femoral artery of a completely innocent woman and doesn’t even seem to feel bad about it. She never comes back to the movie either, for all we know he murdered her.
This is part of a much larger disregard The November Man has for all its female characters. With the exception of the femme fatale Russian assassin none of the female characters do anything competently; they are pawns to be acted upon by the stronger male characters. They can’t fight, they can’t do their jobs, and they can’t even run or hide effectively. The incompetent female CIA operative sort of gets a chance to get revenge on the man who treated her so badly but she does it by making a phone call so a man can do it for her. Olga Kurylenko, the female lead, is constantly a victim and the further we get in to the film the more we dive in to the depths of her character’s victimhood. She gets a brief moment of comeuppance against her assailants towards the end but the revenge on the man who ruined her life is reserved for a man. It’s a shame that Brosnan has left the Bond franchise but he can’t help but keep making his girls pretty plot devices.