So after looking at the post-Bond careers of Sean Connery, and Lazenby, Moore and Dalton, I meant to cover Pierce Brosnan, but never got around to it. Having caught November Man (2014) this past weekend, I decided it was the perfect time as this comes off very much as Brosnan playing an aging Bond (all rights to image with current holder)
First, though, let’s look at Brosnan’s career overall. He’s stayed busy since Bond (and even during his time on the series Bond wasn’t the only thing he worked on). He had a singing (badly, alas) role in Mama Mia! (2008) for instance, and played a shady prime minister in Ghost Writer (2010). Brosnan has also played three roles that have Bondian overtones. In the adaptation of LeCarr’es The Tailor of Panama (2005) he’s an unprincipled, morally bankrupt spy arranging a coup. The Matador (2005) is an excellent film that stars Brosnan as a lecherous hit-man, Bond without the class and style. And then there’s his turn as Devereaux (based on the protagonist of a spy series by Bill Granger), the protagonist of November Man.
Devereaux is a CIA assassin, hard and cold (“We called you the November Man because after you came through, nothing lived.”), and Brosnan’s performance is very reminiscent of Bond (Tailor and Matador show he could have done it differently, so I assume it’s a conscious choice). After his protege Mason (Luke Bracey) accidentally kills a little girl along with his target, Devereaux quits. Five years later, his former boss Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) recruits him to extract a woman working to get the dirt on Federov, a very dirty candidate for next president of Russia. When things go wrong, Hanley gives Mason the kill order and he takes out the woman. That turns out to be bad news as she’s secretly Devereaux’s long-time lover and the mother of his child (in contrast to his stern lectures to Mason that a spy must never have any attachments). And before she dies she gives Devereaux the name of the woman whose intel can bring down Federov. The Russian, you see, deliberately provoked a Chechen terrorist incident (Chechen terrorists have been a film/TV bogeyman for years), triggering a war… and it turns out Hanley green-lit this. And now he plans to use this information to bring Russia’s president to heel, so they can both get around to crushing the Middle East.
As Roger Ebert put it, “the movie wants to be taken seriously, except when it doesn’t.” The movie’s weakness is that it’s a generic action/espionage flick that gives lip service to serious LeCarre-esque dramas, and for that matter to character arcs. Devereaux quits after the little girl is killed, but she never matters after that. Devereaux’s past mentor relationship with Mason is irrelevant to the plot, and while Devereaux’s furious that Mason killed his lover, the two men start working together as soon as the plot requires it. We have kids getting killed, the CIA in bed with the Russians, war crimes getting covered up, but it’s all just an excuse for uninspired action sequences. Devereaux tells his protege that they can be human or someone who kills humans, but not both—but neither man takes that to heart. And the idea that in post-9/11 America a CIA official would go down for war crimes, let alone a Russian politician is just laughable. And as Ebert notes, it’s a movie where Hanley calling a female subordinate “tits” isn’t to make him odious, it’s meant to be smart-ass funny. For cynicism about the spy game, November Man doesn’t even approach The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Sean Bean’s critique of Bond in Goldeneye packed more punch.
Brosnan is good, but he doesn’t have much to do. As a fan of his since Remington Steele (his star-making TV role back in the 1980s), I’m glad he’s doing well. But November Man isn’t a high point.