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August 27, 2014

Movie review: Pierce Brosnan is back in the spy saddle in 'The November Man'

The tangled moral compass of international espionage maintains our interest in "The November Man," a slick, pulpy thriller that may not re-invent the genre but is entertaining enough.

Pierce Brosnan plays Peter Devereaux, a steely American CIA agent with ice water in his veins. We first see him training an impulsive but resolute young guy David Mason (Luke Bracey). Naturally, these two clash early and often.

Five years later, Brosnan is back in familiar James Bond "From Russia With Love" territory, only this time he is not a suave lady-killer, rather a jeans-clad re-activated retired operative hell-bent on protecting those in his radar.

The dangerous situation involves the ever-changing post-Cold War landscape, and things are heating up in Belgrade, Serbia. He must protect Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko), an important witness to a suspected conspiracy of far-reaching proportions.

World-weary and hard-boiled, Peter is the kind of spy who doesn't necessarily follow orders or obey authority figures -- pretty much a rogue like every spy ever in a movie. And of course he reveals his feelings only sparingly at key moments.

A despicable Russian leader running for president is on a rampage to dispose of people with damaging information about his past. The trail is fairly dense, and you'll be able to figure out the players soon enough. The action moves swiftly, and plenty of blood is spilled, although hits are efficient and fast.

Performances

A very fit Brosnan is back in the spy saddle. If you liked him as James Bond, you'll enjoy him here, where he is all-business, a guy who does not appear human but actually hides heartbreak and regret.

His stud muffin partner David is played by Bracey, apparently the latest screen hunk du jour. His part is basically central casting for a chiseled guy with a conscience.

Journeymen character actors Bill Smitrovich ("Life Goes On"), as John Hanley, and Will Patton ("Remember the Titans") as Perry Weinstein, are impressive, as usual, as veteran CIA suits calling the shots.

Lazar Ristovski is effective as the villain Federov.

What Works

"The November Man" is sturdy enough to keep us guessing. And yes, they do explain the puzzling title, but not for a while.

The cast is solid. The direction by Roger Donaldson ("No Way Out") is taut.

He includes a decent blend of the high-tech drones and computer hacking -- with the old-school action of car chases through European streets and staircase fights.

Donaldson previously directed Brosnan in the cheesy volcano movie "Dante'"s Peak," and the pair benefit here because of a better script by Karl Gajdusek and Michael Finch, based on Bill Granger's book, "There Are No Spies."

What Doesn't Work

Like most spy capers, at times it feels "too inside," a little muddied, but as events unfold, plot points become clearer. The characters are fairly by-the-numbers, especially the women. The violent shootouts are gruesome.

2 1/2 stars

Director: Roger Donaldson

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Will Patton, Olga Kurylenko, Bill Smitrovich

Length: 1:48

Rated: R for strong violence including a sexual assault, language, sexuality, nudity and brief drug use.

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