THE NOVEMBER MAN (Rated R)
The fact that Pierce Brosnan portrayed James Bond in several installments of the famous spy thriller franchise in the 1990s makes him a good choice to play a secret agent in the present day who reluctantly comes out of retirement for one final mission.
“The November Man,” in which Brosnan’s Peter Devereaux is a retired CIA agent living peacefully in Lausanne, Switzerland, is based on Bill Granger’s novel “There Are No Spies,” and since the author has penned other novels in the series, maybe this is the start of another spy franchise.
The temptation is clearly evident to say that Brosnan’s CIA agent is a reformulation of James Bond or Jason Bourne.
Yet, it’s a younger man’s game for those well-recognized spies. Here, Brosnan is more like the tough guy Liam Neeson has become since his role in the thrilling “Taken” franchise.
If Pierce Brosnan returns in sequels to “The November Man,” the motto of “Old Guys Rule” may become something more than an expression of wishful thinking on ball caps and T-shirts. By all accounts, much like Liam Neeson, Brosnan has the chops to be ruthless and hard-hitting.
The spy thriller opens in Montenegro in 2008 with Devereaux and his young CIA protégé, agent David Mason (Luke Bracey), involved in protecting the American ambassador from an assassination attempt, which results in the unfortunate death of a young girl as collateral damage.
The action shifts to five years later at a lakefront café in Lausanne, where Devereaux’s carefree existence is interrupted by the arrival of old colleague, John Hanley (Bill Smitrovich), who insists that the retired agent must help extract a woman under deep cover in the Kremlin.
Devereaux’s reasons for rejoining the agency for a dangerous mission is, like many things, not immediately known. But valuable information about a former Russian general now a rising politician who could become the next president presents an imperative.
The Russian in question, Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski), is corrupt and dangerous. As an Army general in the Chechnyan conflict, Federov was engaged in serious war crimes and had abducted young girls for human trafficking in sex slavery. The missing Mira Filipova holds very incriminating evidence against Federov.
The mission in Moscow to extract American deep asset Natalia (Mediha Musliovic) goes horribly wrong, and Devereaux ends up in a shootout with a team of CIA agents chasing after him and the Russian secret police trying to stop Natalia.
Devereaux discovers that his former protégé David Mason has unfortunately been ordered to take him out. The man who was once the hunter has now becomes the hunted. Mason is deadly and determined, having learned well from his former mentor.
The resulting cat-and-mouse game between the old and new guard in the spy ranks sets up a good contest. As Devereaux closely trained Mason and shaped into what he is today, both men are evenly matched as they each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
The escalating battle is orchestrated by others in the shadowy ranks of the CIA, including efforts by master manipulator Hanley using highly questionable methods that are overseen by Perry Weinstein (Bill Patton), who has no qualms about using harsh powers of persuasion to spur Mason on in a quest to eliminate Devereaux.
The chase ends up in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, where Devereaux comes into contact with social worker Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko, a former Bond girl in “Quantum of Solace”), who not only helps young girls fleeing sexual slavery and human trafficking but may be the key to finding the missing Mira Filipova.
When it becomes apparent that Alice knows too much, her life is in danger, and only Devereaux can protect her.
A ruthless Russian female agent starts to kill anyone looking into Federov’s activities, including a journalist who senses that he’s on track for a big story.
The grizzled veteran spy has to dodge bullets and double-crosses, while the bodies start piling up in this hard-edged, violent thriller at an alarming pace that is only rivaled by serial killing favored by the cheesiest of horror flicks.
Though “The November Man” is somewhat predictable and sometimes lacks coherence, there are key elements of surprise that bring delight.
This is an end-of-summer popcorn action film that, even though it wishes to explore moral quandaries, makes no pretense in the end of its objective of being an entertaining thriller.
Nearing an age to qualify for Social Security, Pierce Brosnan, like many other colleagues of his generation, is still very credible for being the action hero.
Watching him engaged as the conflicted good guy capable of delivering the goods makes “The November Man” a decent pleasure for those who enjoy the spy genre.
Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.