Review: November Man a different kind of spy thriller

Actor Pierce Brosnan plays a spy very different from James Bond. -- PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION
Actor Pierce Brosnan plays a spy very different from James Bond. -- PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Review Spy thriller

NOVEMBER MAN (NC16)

108 minutes/Opens tomorrow/***

The story: CIA agent Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan), code-named November Man, comes out of retirement for a final assignment at his former boss' request. It leads him to the vulnerable aid worker Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko), a cover-up of a war crime and the growing suspicion of a mole in the CIA. And he crosses paths with his former subordinate David Mason (Luke Bracey). Based on the novel There Are No Spies (1987) by Bill Granger.

If the paths of Brosnan and Kurylenko had crossed back when they were part of a different spy thriller franchise, she could well have ended up in his bed. Brosnan had played James Bond from 1995's GoldenEye to 2002's Die Another Day, while she played the Bond girl in Quantum Of Solace (2008).

But November Man wants to be a different kind of spy thriller, a little more grounded and a little less fantastical and a little less overtly sexy/sexist. It succeeds only to a certain extent, unable to completely break free of the genre's conventions.

At first, it paints a rather grim picture of what life is like for a spy instead of the GQ glamour spread that the Bond movies used to convey.

Devereaux makes the point to Mason that human connection is a luxury that they cannot afford. "You feel the need for a relationship, get a dog," he advises.

What keeps November Man interesting for a while is the relationship between master and pupil and how its dynamics change over the course of the movie. Mason goes from being an impulsive rookie who botches a mission to a skilled killer agent and, yet, Devereaux can still get inside his head. In one tense manhunt sequence, Devereaux keeps Mason talking, and guessing, on the phone as he schools the latter on how to make an escape.

Their competing loyalties ratchet up the tension: Can they trust each other? Can they trust the agency? Who is behind the cover-up of a bombing in Chechnya that was meant to ignite a war?

Brosnan brings an unexpected streak of ruthlessness to the role of Devereaux, well matched by rising Australian actor Bracey, who makes for a promising action lead.

Director Roger Donaldson, who previously worked with Brosnan on volcano eruption flick Dante's Peak (1997), keeps you guessing for a while but the story ends up both a little farfetched and predictable in patches. A search for a pivotal witness to the bombing ends in, well, not much of a surprise and the ending seems rather hastily put together.

The John le Carre adaptations Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) and A Most Wanted Man (2014) would better satisfy those after a more thoughtful spy thriller. For a more mainstream offering, you might still want to make a date with November Man.

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