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The November Man (2014)

A Serbian Flam

Life is weird. Immediately following a Tuesday night screening of The November Man, I fell into a co-interview situation with Lori Granger--the widow of Chicago novelist Bill Granger, who wrote the spy series on which the film is based. Ms. Granger said the adaptation bore little resemblance to its source material, but that she was happy with the outcome. Based on the resulting film, I can only imagine that part of her contentment has to do with not being able to pin such shabby storytelling on her dearly departed husband.

Pierce Brosnan stars as Peter Devereaux, a CIA spy who left the agency shortly after an incident in which his hotshot young trainee, Mason (Luke Bracey), mistakenly killed a child. Years later, Devereaux's former boss, Hanley (Bill Smitrovich), unofficially reactivates him to protect an old flame, Natalia (Mediah Musliovic), who's protecting old secrets. A former Russian general named Federov (Lazar Ristovski) aims to bury his dirty past on the path to the presidency, you see, and Natalia's high on the list.

Simple enough, right? Not so fast. Writers Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek then introduce a rogue CIA element (of course), which uses Mason (double of course) to kill Natalia so she can't spill the beans on someone in its own ranks. And we haven't even met Alice (Olga Kurylenko), a social worker with a dark past; or the American journalist she confides in; or Federov's silent assassin; or the pimp who used to be a military officer; or Mason's comely neighbor with the annoying cat.

We're also a good ways away from our heroes' disturbing schizophrenia (which led to my having used the plural apostrophe instead of the singular). Are we supposed to root for Devereaux? Of course! The actor playing him was once James Bond! Wait, why is James Bond gunning down federal officers and threatening to slit an innocent woman's throat?

So, then, Mason must be our man. Hold on. What was that about not giving a fuck about all the people he's killed? And why would he endanger that nice neighbor girl by going out with her in public, when he knows full well the guy who trained him in spyhood is most likely surveilling his every move? Hey, did he just betray his country? Or is he playing both sides? Or no sides?

Hey, look! Pierce Brosnan's in this movie! He played James Bond once, you know.

The November Man may not be a good film, but it's highly entertaining. That has to count for something--even if that "something" is a drinking game. Submitted for your viewing pleasure are just a few shot-worthy gems:

  • Every time a new sub-plot is introduced
  • Every time "Serbia" or "Belgrade" appears on the screen to indicate a new location ("American Embassy, Serbia", "Imperial Hotel, Belgrade", "CIA Black Ops Site, Serbia", "Belgrade International Airport", "American Embassy, Serbia"--again)
  • Every time Olga Kurylenko gets a close-up (not complaining)
  • Every time Luke Bracey gets a closeup (complaining a lot)
  • Every time someone gets punched/shot/body-checked from around a corner (Have 9-1-1 on speed dial for this one. Seriously, it's out of control.)

I appreciate Donaldson and company's attempts to bring something new to the spy thriller. But at the end of the day, multi-layered plots without cohesion are just vignettes in search of a movie. The actors bring everything they've got to their roles, but each scene is from a different film in a diametrically opposed genre. You know what an hour-and-forty-four minutes of crosses, double-crosses, triple-crosses, and double-dog-dare-crosses will get you? A cross audience--assuming they're engaged enough to care.

If you're like me, The November Man will prove to be a hilarious fascination--a journey into a world where military geniuses don't recognize key people from fifteen years ago; where political leaders hang out in hotels guarded by five dudes who don't believe in bullet-proof vests; and where spies-on-the-run spend way too much time hanging out in front of exposed windows. On the broadest level, this is the worst kind of entertainment. Look closer, though, and you'll find a chuckle-worthy class in poor decisions that someone could write a book about.

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