Review by Logan
If you lamented over Pierce Brosnan stepping down from the James Bond mantle, then never fear–he’s back, with another spy movie. The question is, is it a spy movie worth seeing?
Based a novel series you probably haven’t heard of, The November Man is an almost too-familiar story of master versus apprentice. Peter Deveraux (Brosnan) was once the most prolific black ops agent in the United States. At the start of the film, he’s retired, but those sorts of things never last. He’s brought back into the game by an old friend, and finds himself face-to-face against David Mason, an agent that he helped train, and was something of a surrogate son to him.h
As the film progresses, an interesting story starts to unfold. Deveraux is charged with extracting a woman who has information on Federov, a Russian army general, who is guilty of some pretty heinous war crimes. It seems like a pretty black-and-white good and wrong scenario, but when Deveraux finds himself facing his young apprentice, along with the United States government, then traditional notions of good and bad guys don’t seem so simple anymore.
That, in fact, is probably the film’s greatest strength. It causes you to challenge ideas of who the good guy really is and who the bad guy really is. That in turn brings up some interesting discussions for the Christian. Namely, where does our command to be submissive to the authorities run into conflict with morality, causing us to “obey God rather than men”? What impact does that have on our attitudes, and how do we maintain a healthy enough skepticism to see where that line is without disrespecting the authorities? This film, not directly addressing Christianity, doesn’t give clear answers to those questions, but the questions that it does implicitly raise are thought-provoking.
But here’s the thing: that’s basically every spy movie since 1980. Whether we’re talking about Goldeneye or Mission: Impossible or The Bourne Identity, the spy genre has made heavy use of that theme. So while those are thought-provoking questions, it’s not as though you have to go to this film in order to get them. So while I like those questions from a worldview perspective, I have to criticize the film from a film critic’s perspective in that it’s really just a regurgitation of the same things we’ve seen in this genre over and over again, making it a good example of why genre films as a category rarely get the attention of any awards outside of the dreaded People’s Choice Awards.
It then becomes a question of whether the film is stylistically superior. It may be basically the same thing as James Bond, Jason Bourne, or Jack Ryan, but it does it do those same things better? It certainly does them more seriously; the film has a noticeably darker tone than the Bond films, something I would note as a positive. It takes itself more seriously than some films in its genre, and with good reason. It’s a serious story, even broaching the dark topic of sexual abuse. If you can be forgiving of the film’s profanity, then it combines with those serious themes an impressive array of action sequences, not to mention an absolutely phenomenal car chase, and a few twists that aren’t quite as obvious as your typical blockbuster.
But then you get to the halfway point. At this point in the movie, the filmmakers try to pull off some things with the plot that just don’t quite work. That’s not because it isn’t a good story, but because of poor writing and execution. I found myself having to backtrack and think out loud in order to just understand what was going on, something I don’t commonly do in movies. So in a time when you should be on the edge of your seat, you’re cocking your head saying “Wait, what happened?”
Is The November Man a bad film? No, I wouldn’t say that. As far as action films go, it has what fans look for: a somewhat believable conflict, a talented action hero, cool explosions, and a solid supporting cast. But just as I can’t really call it a bad film, I can’t justify calling it a great film. So if you’re bored on a Friday night, it’s a good RedBox rental. But don’t go in expecting it to be The Fugitive, or you’ll be sorely disappointed.