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‘November Man’ Reviews: ‘Sam Peckinpah, This Ain’t’

'November Man' Reviews: 'Sam Peckinpah, This Ain't'

It’s late August, which means that it’s time for studios to start dumping movies they have to release at some point or another before awards season rolls around. From the sound of it, “The November Man” is a classic late August film, an absurd spy thriller filled with dumb twists, oversimplified geopolitics (Matt Prigge: “so stupid even this reviewer could follow them”), and macho crap that’s too self-serious to be fun and too dumb in its sexism to be insightful (Matt Zoller Seitz: “Sam Peckinpah, this ain’t”). Pierce Brosnan’s work as protagonist Peter Devereaux is praised, but maybe it’s time to get this guy another “The Matador” or “The Ghost Writer” instead of stranding him in junk like this.

“The November Man” hits theaters August 27.

Andrew Barker, Variety

In a cinematic landscape awash in tiresome origin stories, it’s theoretically admirable that “The November Man” introduces its hero in medias res. But for those without previous knowledge of the character, Devereaux’s motivations and methods prove thoroughly baffling. He’s largely depicted as a flawless professional, until he inexplicably binge-drinks half a bottle of Scotch in the middle of a delicate operation. He spends most of the film standing up for victimized women, until one bizarrely misjudged scene has him kidnap Mason’s civilian girlfriend (Eliza Taylor), terrorize her to the point of tears with a gun and a knife, and then slash her femoral artery to prove some sort of point. (The most callous of the film’s many loose ends, this incident is never mentioned again; nor do we learn if she survived the attack.) Read more.

Jason Clark, Entertainment Weekly

The movie, based on Bill Granger’s popular spy novel series, could easily have been made in Brosnan’s post-“Remington Steele” days, with its fondness for familiar ’80s action tropes like smashed BMWs and heavy arterial spray. Once in a while, there’s a certain drive-in/double feature junkiness that elicits a chuckle or two (especially any scene with an oily officioso played by the growling Bill Smitrovich, the only performer who seems to be having any fun). But the utter lack of originality eventually sinks the movie, and the climax has more howlers than a wolf convention. “The November Man” may be an August release, but its silliness would make it a non-event any month of the year. Read more.

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

This is the sort of film where the plot and even the action become so uninteresting that you start asking plausibility questions along the lines of “Why don’t they just off him already?” and “Really? She’s going to write an entire newspaper article on a public computer in a train station while at least three different people are trying to murder her?” Read more.

Nikola Grozdanovic, The Playlist

Since “The November Man” is all Brosnan, and is clearly marketed to fans of his ass-kicking, no-shit-taking style, the picture doesn’t completely fall apart with respect to its protagonist. While the rest of the players all do standard work (though the wooden Bracey is a bit of a misfire), Brosnan takes shit from no one in his classy and entertaining fashion. He’s as easy as ever to get behind and rally onwards, as he keeps one step ahead of everyone else, and carefully manipulates his way out of tight spots. One of the most interesting scenes comes a little later in the film, when Devereaux breaks into Mason’s apartment and gives his old student a tricky ultimatum. This darker side of Devereaux, however, is quickly disposed of to make way for the unsung hero and concerned father, snuffing out any possibility of a truly complex protagonist. Fans of Granger’s books will have to be the judges of how well the character has been adapted for the screen, but for those who are introduced to him for the first time, we can’t imagine that Peter Devereaux will make a lasting impression. Read more.

Ben Kenigsberg, The New York Times

This summer, “A Most Wanted Man” illustrated how intelligence work requires tracing links up a chain. By contrast, “The November Man” takes place in a closed system in which everything is known. Concealed information can be reached with a few keystrokes. In the film’s sole gesture toward economy, a half-dozen characters seem to have dual motives. The director, Roger Donaldson, no stranger to inane double-cross plots (“The Recruit,” in 2003), keeps the proceedings moving briskly. The film is nearly over before you begin to wonder why it’s called “The November Man,” and giving any thought to the explanation is beside the point. Read more.

Matt Prigge, Metro

In fact, Brosnan is the only thing that works. Not even its director, the spotty but sometimes capable Roger Donaldson (“No Way Out,” “The Bank Job”), is on his game. Donaldson can’t do much with the screenplay’s dose of lame action, “clever” tricks that wouldn’t fool a donkey and geopolitics that are so stupid even this reviewer could follow them. It’s all depressingly cut-rate, from Devereaux’s bland hotheaded former mentee (Luke Bracey) to its laughable over-use of slow-motion, especially when someone runs into a conveniently placed panel of Plexiglas. It’s a throwback to the action films made before the era of action movie parodies. Read more.

Matt Zoller Seitz, RogerEbert.com

“The November Man” also fails to earn the power it summons whenever it shows us scenes of people threatened with torture, or bloodily maimed, or raped. At first you may think it’s a movie set in a sexist world, but soon enough you figure out that the film itself is sexist. When David’s superior officer (Bill Smitrovich) barks slurs at a female subordinate, at one point addressing her as “tits,” the moments are treated as tension breaking laugh lines. A sexually abused character seeks revenge by trying to seduce her abuser, and Donaldson’s camera caresses the lines of her cocktail dress, adopting the POV of her target’s lustful guards. A sweet innocent becomes collateral damage and suffers mightily; the film takes the character’s fear and physical pain seriously for a scene or two, whereupon that character vanishes from the story and is never seen or heard from again. The movie fails to develop the most important people in Devereaux’s life as characters, even obliquely, until the movie needs to terrorize or kill them to jack up suspense and sympathy. Despite occasional humanizing moments, including a shot which confirms that Kurylenko can actually play piano, the movie treats everyone as cannon fodder. Sam Peckinpah, this ain’t. Read more.

Scott Tobias, The Dissolve

“The November Man” represents a step back for Brosnan, way back to the late 1980s and early 1990s, when he was still logging time in generic made-for-TV thrillers. In fact, director Roger Donaldson could have made this movie back then, too, having established his Hollywood bonafides with “No Way Out” in 1987, which happens to be the same year Bill Granger published “There Are No Spies,” the novel on which “The November Man” is based. Aside from references to Chechnya, little effort has been made to update the Cold War spy games of 25 years ago to the Russian chicanery on display here, and real global politics are off the table. Though it pulses with the violence and vague international intrigue of the “Bourne” series — there are shootouts, chase scenes, double crosses, and twists — there’s no purpose behind any of this. It’s just rug-pulling for its own sake. Read more.

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