There’s a scene about halfway through “The November Man” in which Pierce Brosnan’s grizzled CIA man holds a woman hostage and, in an act of revenge against his former protege- who had shot his own female lover during a mission- slashes this innocent woman’s femoral artery and leaves her for dead.
Both before and after this horrific act of sadistic violence, Brosnan’s character is more or less your typical badass spy/antihero, in the tradition of Jack Bauer or Jason Bourne or whatever Liam Neeson’s name was in the “Taken” movies. He’s a killer, yes, but he does so for reasons of mission or necessity.
But then there is that scene in which he offs a woman in cold blood, which the movie never begins to reconcile- for one thing, this woman is never seen or mentioned again, and we never learn her fate. Worst of all, the film just sort of asks its audience to accept at face value that slashing an innocent woman is just something a man’s gotta do.
“The November Man” is a clunky spy thriller to begin with, with a much more complicated plot than necessary and an understanding of global espionage and politics that’s sort of laughable. But it’s the film’s attitude towards violence against women- at times blase, and at other times, seemingly, downright gleeful- that really pushes “November Man” over the line into pure loathsomeness.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Bechdel Test, in which it’s asked if a movie has at least two women, who talk to each other, about something other than a man. “November Man” brings up another test- does this movie have any woman with a speaking part who is not, at any point, murdered, raped, slashed, beaten, kidnapped, held hostage, threatened, told mid-scene to show her tits, or more than one of the above? “The November Man” fails both tests.
Plotwise, “November Man” combines the usual intrigue of a John le Carre Cold War potboiler with the general structure of “Taken,” in which an over-60 American badass (Brosnan) comes to a European capital (Belgrade this time) and runs roughshod over dozens of bad guys. This one combines three distinct plots- there’s the spy stuff, which involves the rise of a shady Russian politician who may have past ties to sex trafficking. There’s a witness (Olga Kurylenko) who may know that politician and needs protecting. And on top of that, there’s Brosnan’s cataclysmic blood feud with his young former protege (unknown Australian actor Luke Bracey.)
The film gets off to a promising start, and it’s never less than competently directed, by veteran middlebrow helmer Roger Donaldson. But the more the plot kicks in, the worse the movie gets, mostly because the Brosnan/Bracey feud is just so boring and meaningless- that is, until one of them nearly kills the other’s girlfriend, and the movie treats it like no big deal.
“November Man”‘s geopolitics are weird, too. The talk of a CIA-led false-flag attack in Chechnya is right out of Alex Jones Land. The evil Russian politician seems obviously modeled on Vladimir Putin, except instead of a belligerent ultra-nationalist like the real man, he’s a mere stooge for the West. And weirdest of all, this movie supposes that being exposed as a rapey, murderous war criminal would end someone’s career in Russian politics. Why would it?
And of course, the movie takes it as a given that every CIA agent has real-time, PRISM-like access to everyone’s location and phone calls at all times. That part, in fact, is more realistic.
There’s also the strangeness of an ex-Bond (Brosnan) sharing the screen with an ex-Bond Girl (Kurylenko), although they’re from different eras. And no, the explanation for why he’s called “The November Man” makes not a lick of sense either.
I did enjoy the supporting performance by Bill Smitrovich– the dad from Life Goes On!- as a CIA official of mysterious loyalties, and I also really liked actress Amila Terzimehić as a silent assassin.
But that doesn’t make up for “The November Man”‘s disgustingly cavalier attitude towards violence against women- or that it’s just plain boring.