There’s a new spy thriller in town, a movie called “November Man” after its central figure’s habit of leaving nothing living once he’s gone.
This is an entertaining film. Pierce Brosnan stars as Peter, a former CIA hit man who has retired after training his replacement, an aggressive young man named Mason (Luke Bracey).
We see a flashback of their last action together, in Montenegro in 2008. Mason ignores his orders and shoots a man who is shooting the body-armor shielded Peter. A small child is killed in the process, and this unintended consequence to by-standers becomes a worry bead for the film.
In 2014, Peter is called by an old agency collaborator and Russia watcher, Hanley. It is nice for characters like Hanley and for spy movies in general that the West’s problems with Russia are back again, even if it isn’t any good for the rest of us. Hanley (dependable veteran Bill Smitrovich) calls Peter in to help a mole escape.
The mole is Peter’s former lover. She has worked her way into a job as administrative assistant to former Russian general and current political candidate Federov. And she knows the full name of a young woman, Mira. who knows something about the origin of the second Chechen war, something that would destroy Federov’s reputation.
But Mason has also been sent to Moscow to aid in the administrative assistant’s escape. When Peter grabs her first (and learns the name of the young woman), Mason’s team is ordered to kill her, which they manage to do.
Peter then rushes to Belgrade, the setting of most of the movie’s action, looking for a social worker named Alice (Olga Kurylenko) who may know the knowledgeable Mira. He finds Alice, who may actually be Mira.
And then we get the best sequence of the movie, intercut scenes of Alice escaping a Slavic hitwoman, Peter escaping an attack by the CIA, and Peter grabbing Alice and the two of them bamboozling their pursuers. “All your friends try to kill you?” the big eyed brunette asks aging Remington Steele. “Eventually,” he replies.
There is a substantial reversal two thirds of the way into the film, and it surprises even if it isn’t poised to really shake the audience. Will Patton, who used to get these parts all the time, is the agency boss who ordered Mason to kill in Moscow.
Then there is considerable additional action, a couple of scenes having to do with commercial sex—Alice’s parents were killed when she was kidnapped to be a companion for Federov when he was a Russian army general.
We get flashbacks, the sudden explanation of what “Mira” knows, more attacks by the Slav hitwoman, more about the relationship between Mason and Peter (including a lesson that relates back to the Montenegro incident), and an amusing series of brief scenes that are supposedly interrogations of Hanley by an agency overseer (played by Canadian Caterina Scorsone).
But even with all this going on, the movie slows down a bit in its last quarter, mostly because it is beginning to explain itself. Explaining is almost always a mistake in the movies. Some of the background the script here offers is plausible, some is not.
And then by explaining some things, the film suggests it ought to be able to explain other things. Viewers may wish it explained how Mason gets the information about the location of the kidnapped twelve-year-old that he puts to good use in the last action scenes. And we all wish there had been more to show why Alice gets to feeling attached to Peter. This last is a puzzler.
Luckily, “November Man” is cut to run very quickly. There isn’t much time to worry over what gets explained and what doesn’t. And that’s the way the movies should be. The action is newly imagined. The characters are attractive. And the film moves along like the Texas Chief crossing into Oklahoma. I mean, it goes.