Cam's Eye Review: THE NOVEMBER MAN (2014)

SYNOPSIS:
When the past lures Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) out of retirement, the ex-CIA agent finds himself entangled in a political conspiracy involving high-ranking CIA officials and the Russian President-elect. 
Tasked with protecting Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko), a woman whose secrets threaten the future of old alliances, professional circumstances pit Devereaux against his former protege, David Mason (Luke Bracey), a sniper with deadly aim. 
Based on Bill Granger's political thriller, There Are No Spies, the seventh installment in The November Man series.

REVIEW:

Here's what (ugh!) Wikipedia says about this action thriller: The November Man is a 2014 American spy action thriller film based on the novel "There Are No Spies" by Bill Granger, which is canonically the seventh installment in The November Man novel series, published in 1987. It stars Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, and Olga Kurylenko with the screenplay written by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek. The film is directed by Roger Donaldson, who previously worked with Brosnan in Dante's Peak. Beau St. Clair once again teams up with Brosnan to co-produce the film.

"People are power. We collect people," states John Hanley (Bill Smitrovich, of The X-Files and Millenium TV series fame). And that is evident in this particular fare brought to us by producer Beau St. Clair (among others), and executive produced by Mr. Brosnan's production company, Irish Dreamtime (among other executive and assistant producers).

Our film starts where veteran CIA operative Peter Devereaux is assigned to protect a US Ambassador in Montenegro back in 2008 under orders from CIA Director Hanley. Devereaux's new recruit, David Mason (Luke Bracey, an Australian actor, best known for his role on Home and Away as Trey Palmer), is given the task as a sniper to take out anyone who has threatened the ambassador since he had received a threat before at an upcoming public meeting. But things turn from controlled to uncontrolled when Mason notices a tall man pull out a gun from his suit from his gunsight and walk toward the ambassador. Mason is eager to shoot but Devereaux argues with Mason not to fire until the assassin is clear of the crowd. A young boy runs toward the area where Devereaux and the ambassador are but Mason shoots anyway, and killing the child by accident. From that horrific scene, Devereaux retires from the CIA and goes back to Switzerland and opens a coffee shop.

Less than a few years later, we see Devereaux at his coffee café, sitting outside in the sun and light breeze as a man approaches: his old boss, John Hanley. He smiles, greets Devereaux, and asks him for one last assignment to do. Refusing, Hanley reveals that it's an emergency extraction of a deep cover CIA operative from Russia, Natalia Ulanova (Mediha Musliovic, a Bosnian film and TV actress). She has been posing as the aide of presidential candidate and former Russian Army General Arkady Fedorov and knows the name of a witness who can tie Fedorov to war crimes in the Second Chechen War. Hanley says Natalia won't turn over the name unless she is brought in and wants Peter's help in getting out of the country. Hanley also tells Devereaux that Fedorov's personal assassin Alexa (Caterina Scorsone, best known for her role as Amelia Shepherd in the ABC medical dramas Private Practice and Grey's Anatomy) has been assigned to murder all of Fedorov's former associates who have knowledge of his past crimes.

Devereaux accepts when he asks if Natalia specifically requested him. Hanley assents. However, unknown to Devereaux, former partner and friend David Mason's own team is dispatched to extract Natalia as well, with CIA station chief Perry Weinstein (Will Patton, Colonel Dan Weaver in the TNT science fiction series Falling Skies) in charge of the operation. Mason's team is also unaware of Hanley's own actions.

Managing to break into Fedorov's personal safe, Natalia copies several photos of an unkempt young girl and a younger Fedorov. She manages to escape and contacts Mason's team to ready her for the extraction. However, Fedorov notices that his safe was broken into and alerts the FSB, who chase her through the streets of Moscow until Devereaux arrives and rescues Natalia. Natalia, though surprised to see him, gives him a name, Mira Filipova, which he relays to Hanley before she is shot by Mason who was ordered by Weinstein to kill her. Before she dies, she gives him the cellphone with the incriminating photos.

Now Devereaux has to find this Mira Filipova while being chased by Alexa, Mason, and his team.

Not wanting to give too much in the way of plot details, the above does nicely. Even though some reviewers think that the story was hard to follow, I think someone who is mentally lazy would write that. As a reviewer I need all my wits about me to follow the storyline and if it's a logical progression with the characters involved.

To be honest, I thought the pacing, the storylines, and characters were top-notch.  Brosnan gives us a human character we can all relate to in many different ways which is completely opposite to his Bond persona we all got to know and love for more than a decade. Post-Bond, he has made some very interesting choices in his career: the true-life movie Evelyn, the action-packed Dante's Peak, the western Seraphim Falls alongside fellow Irishman Liam Neeson, the film adaption of the ABBA musical Mamma Mia! and the Danish romantic comedy Love Is All You Need. I should make a note here that in December 2005, Mr. Brosnan was to star in the screen adaptation of The November Man but the project was cancelled in 2007. It was only through his own efforts (since he still had the film rights), along with others, that the project was greenlighted once more in 2012 and released to generally negative reviews in 2014.

As for me, I love the action thriller format. Even when politics are involved. The Manchurian Candidate (both original and remake), the Bourne films, V for Vendetta, and Three Days of the Condor (1975) come to mind. And The November Man is among this proud pantheon. But I'm a reviewer - so what do I know? I know what's good to me and I can give a legitimate, informed, and critical review.

The sharp writing, the pace, the violence, the filming (apart from a little sloppy steadicam work in the coffee cafe scene), and the backdrop of Serbia serving as Russia and Belgrade gave this film character. And we see a little tiresome slow motion shots that could have been cut back a bit more but I could follow every character's story arc well and how they lived and breathed. Not to say is wasn't edited tightly -- apart from showing a guy's head cracking on a tile floor which they could have done without as Peter Devereaux shot some "bad guys" -- but one humorous moment jumped out at me: actress Olga Kurylenko as Alice Fournier (a key role I should refrain from elaborating), picks up a shovel from a construction wheelbarrow, hides off to the side, and then smacks the athletic and remarkably stoic Alexa in the face with it, trying to run away from the hired assassin. An effective tool for the job, I might add.

We are treated to car chases, people running, and dialogue from CIA operatives as Devereaux tries his best to keep Alice Fournier safe from harm and from the clutches of David Mason and his team who get picked off one-by-one by Brosnan's character. All in the name of finding the elusive Mira Filipova. Devereaux also has to deal with his own issues when Mason finds out that Devereaux has a young daughter and she gets caught up in the mess as she is kidnapped and held by one of the main characters who wants Mira Filipova found and turned over to the Agency.

When Devereaux finally confronts the presidential hopeful, Federov, we are treated to a stereotypical mainstay of confrontations: Russian roulette. All in the hope of getting a confession out of him about his war crimes and the serial raping of Mira Filipova who was only 12 at the time.

But the scenes with Mason and Devereaux are really eye-opening.  Finding out that Devereaux did not want Mason in the field made him harder and more focused on the job; doing what he was ordered to do. But when he sees Devereaux for the first time after killing Natalia, he hesitates and both characters walk in opposite directions. Back at the Command room, they record from a camera feed of both men walking away and the station chief, Weinstein, demands why Mason let him go.

Mason's story gets complicated by the presence of a cat that shows up at his apartment in Belgrade and we're treated to a blonde American girl, Sarah (Eliza Taylor, an Australian actress, best known for her role as Janae Timmins in the Australian soap opera Neighbours [2005-2008] and can currently be seen in The CW series The 100 as Clarke Griffin). Sarah find Mason "somewhat attractive" and it's not too obvious that he is attracted to her. It's only when Devereaux inserts himself in Mason's apartment after he and Sarah have sex and holds Sarah as a hostage with a knife, trying to ask Mason to "take the shot" and asked him over and over to choose and if Sarah's life was more valuable than Devereaux's. It's the culmination of Mason taking the woman Devereaux loved (Natalia) and the threat of losing someone Mason was beginning to love. I won't give away what happens to Sarah in this dueling exchange but it captured my attention and interest.

If you can handle some of the action and follow the storyline closely, this film will thoroughly entertain you if you're a fan of political action/thriller films and keep your blood pumping. I am also sure that you won't be disappointed on who Mira Filipova turns out to be and the mental gymnastics are few and far between to keep you guessing until the last act. This is no James Bond ride -- it's not bold and overblown with a lot of special effects. This is a smartly written and well-acted thriller that would probably want you wanting more of in the future. Despite other reviewers claiming "dull genre clichés" by Rotten Tomatoes, I don't think they get the historical significance of this film nor even read the book the work is based on.

Cameron Farmer is a freelance writer based in California with a shared interest in several topics other than film which you can learn more about via his Facebook fan page over at Kingspirit Entertainment. Feel free to subscribe to his page and follow him on Twitter @CameronFarmer8.

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