“The November Man,” a new spy thriller starring Pierce Brosnan, has some James Bondian elements. There’s Olga Kurylenko, who was the Bond girl in “Quantum of Solace,” loads of intrigue and exotic locations. What makes this character different from Brosnan’s Bond are the gadgets. There aren’t any. The only gadgets he has here are two fists and a gun.
Brosnan plays Peter Devereaux, a violent CIA agent nick named the November Man, because once he passes through, nothing lives. He’s given up his lethal ways, and now enjoys a quiet retirement in Switzerland. When the proverbial one last job— extracting his former wife out of a sticky situation in Belgrade—goes wrong, he gets embroiled in a case that sees him protecting a witness Alice Fournier (Kurylenko) who could bring down the next president of Russia and dodging bullets from his former CIA protégé David Mason (Luke Bracey).
Based on Bill Granger’s novel “There are No Spies” from the bestselling November Man book series, the movie begins as a taut thriller but soon turns from perfectly functional espionage story to a messy tale of personal grudges and unresolved daddy issues.
The story splinters off in several directions, making perhaps one too many u-turns along the way, but ultimately succeeds because Brosnan brings the Bond. Sure, it’s more the violent Daniel Craig style 007, but it’s great fun to see the actor back in action man mode.
He punches, shoots and kicks his way through the movie, even when the story threatens to overpower him.
Director Roger Donaldson (“The Bank Job,” “No Way Out”) stages several exciting chase scenes and builds tension and even develops some subtext about the consequences of leading a violent life—“You can be a human or a killer of humans, but you can’t be both.”—but veers off into melodrama every now and again. By the time a bad guy says (NO SPOILERS HERE), “You just doomed us to another decade of conflict,” you could be forgiven for thinking “The November Man” was a cold war thriller parody.
As it is the movie is a somewhat generic thriller buoyed by Brosnan’s badass Bondness.
In the first five minutes of Quantum of Solace, the twenty-second official James Bond picture and the second to star Daniel Craig in the iconic role, hundreds of bullets are fired, a building is destroyed, a truck totaled and several cars trashed and one blown up in spectacular fashion. By the time the opening credits roll the body count is already in the double digits and any thoughts that first-time Bond director, Mark Monster’s Ball Forster would make a ponderous, slow-moving movie are erased.
The story of Quantum of Solace combines elements of the Jason Bourne movies, Chinatown and, of course Ian Fleming’s novels to create one compelling, but slightly confusing plot line. As we meet Bond (Craig) he is grief stricken from the death of his girlfriend Vesper Lynd. His quest for revenge in her death leads him to Dominic Greene (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’s Mathieu Amalric), CEO of Greene Planet, an environmental company that is actually a front for much more nefarious activities (think John Huston’s character in Chinatown only on a massive scale). Bond’s single-minded search brings him into conflict with his biggest ally—M (Judi Dench)—and brings him an unlikely partner (Olga Kurylenko).
Forster does his best to keep the action moving along at a feverish pace. At 106 minutes this is the shortest ever Bond picture and it flies by in a flash of fists and fast edits. There are Bourne style battle scenes—brutal, up-close-and-personal fist fights—wild chases and huge explosions, nothing exactly new for the Bond franchise, but here is where the film is earning its harshest criticism.
Forster sets up the action scenes nicely, and in several cases pulls off some exciting, breathless work, but too often his sense of screen geography gets away from him and the actors get lost amid the shaky, hand held camera work and frenetic fight choreography. Several times I wondered who was punching who and there is an extended plane chase that is a bit too sloppy to be truly exciting. The sheer spectacle of it all will entertain the eye well enough, but the action doesn’t have the high octane bite it could have had.
Forster is much more at home with the more personal elements of the movie. He keeps the tension in the dangerous character triangle between Bond, his boss M and the villain Dominic as taut as a bowstring. This tension gives us the most conflicted Bond ever.
Torn between his lust for revenge and his duty Bond goes rogue and is more dangerous than ever. Craig, when he’s not performing stunts of daring do—he was injured several times while making the film—is cold, emotionless, a killer who will stop at nothing until his bloodlust is satisfied. This is a much more serious Bond than your father’s 007.
The funny lines and puns of the Moore and Brosnan years have pretty much evaporated, replaced by much darker humor. When M asks Bond about the whereabouts of Mr. Slate, an informant he has just dispatched, he says with no hint of a smile, “Slate was a dead end.” Later M tries to end his killing spree with, “If you could avoid killing every possible lead that would be much appreciated.”
Quantum of Solace is a tough movie, the good guys do bad things and the bad guys do even worse things, and in the end the morality of right and wrong is left twisting in the wind.