Chuck Koplinski: Star's superspy skills still shine in 'November Man'
Could the widespread usage and acceptance of Viagra be somehow linked to the spate of action films with heroes over 60 years old in the last decade?
Now that sexual virility is attainable at any age, is it is such a leap to assume that movie audiences are more willing to accept an AARP man of action stepping into the fray than they were before? Sure John Wayne and Clint Eastwood were both guilty of blasting past the edge of plausibility when they took on tough guy roles when they were past their "Sell By" date, but what with "The Expendables" franchise, the reinvention of Liam Neeson as a man of violent means and Bruce Willis still blowin' stuff up real good, there seems to be no stopping this wave of aging action guys.
Is there a connection between the little blue pill and this trend? Truth be told, I don't really know; this all just happened to be rattling around in my head what with having to review the latest entry featuring a gray-at-the-temples hero, "The November Man."
Surprisingly, this thriller from director Roger Donaldson isn't half bad, due in large part to its star Pierce Brosnan, who returns to the action genre after far too long an absence. It's good to see him again, as I always thought he was given short shrift where his interpretation of James Bond was concerned. He was able to strike the proper balance between the inherent fun in the role while being able to convincingly execute the derring-do the part required.
The easy confidence he brings to "The November Man" holds him and the movie in good stead as his sheer presence makes it far easier to suspend our sense of disbelief, something that's required early and often throughout this production.
Brosnan is Peter Devereaux, a retired CIA agent who is brought back into the fold by his old colleague Hanley (Bill Smitrovich). Seems Natalia Ulanova (Mediha Musliovic) is deep undercover in Russia and has requested she be extracted by the former spook. Devereaux reluctantly goes back into the field and immediately wishes he hadn't as the operation goes sideways, Ulanova ends up dead and he comes face-to-face with a former pupil of his, Mason (Luke Bracey), an agent with considerable skills but not the right amount of ice in his veins. They agree to fight another day and walk away, both knowing that this scenario is far from played out.
As a result of this mission, Devereaux has obtained the identity of an informant by the name of Mila Filapova, who just happens to have information about a conspiracy involving Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski), a militant on the brink of taking over Russia. If this intel gets out, his plans of controlling the country will be put on ice, so he commissions an assassin (Amila Terzimehic) to take out Alice (Olga Kurylenko), a Serbian social worker who may be the only person who knows where Mila is. It comes as no surprise that Devereaux, Mason and a few assorted others are after her as well.
As you can tell, there are far too many moving parts at play, and getting them all to mesh requires an occasional lapse in logic or a handy coincidence. Frankly, there were times when I wasn't too sure who was after who and why.
However, I don't think that was due to shoddy storytelling on Donaldson's part, as in the end, all is made clear. Unlike most modern action films, "The November Man" requires that instead of being spoon-fed each important detail, you pay attention. It's a refreshing and, at times, stimulating approach that pays off in the end.
The twists and turns in the plot, the characters who can't be trusted and the extended action climax won't come as a surprise to anyone who has seen a spy movie before. Donaldson and his crew aren't out to reinvent the genre; they simply want to prove they can still execute a well-done piece of action entertainment.
As for Brosnan, he proves he's lost none of his intensity nor swagger and can convincingly fill the hero's shoes. There has always been a sense of vulnerability about him that has made him accessible to audiences, and this comes in play here. When he's hurt, you feel it; when he fears for his daughter's life, you empathize; and when he threatens to kill, you believe it.
In the end, this sort of conviction is all that's needed to play a James Bond or Peter Devereaux, no matter how old you might be.
'The November Man' ★★½ (out of 4)
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Will Patton, Bill Smitrovich, Amila Terzimehic, Lazar Ristovski, Mediha Musliovic, Eliza Taylor and Caterina Scorsone.
Directed by Roger Donaldson; produced by Sriram Das and Beau St. Clair; screenplay by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek, based on the novel "There Are No Spies" by Bill Granger.
A Relativity Media release. 108 minutes. Rated R (strong violence including a sexual assault, language, sexuality/nudity and brief drug use). At AMC Village Mall 6, Carmike 13 and Savoy 16 IMAX.
Also new in theaters
"Sin City" sequel visually dynamic, narratively tired (★★).
There's no question that Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez's "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" is a visually stunning piece of work, the sort of film DVDs were made for — you'll find yourself wanting to freeze-frame multiple images throughout to simply study their composition and appreciate the attention to detail that has gone into them.
Utilizing green-screen effects, traditional animation and computer-generated images, the world the directors have created still seems fresh and vibrant as "Sin City" did some nine years ago, which is rather surprising what with all of the technical advances that have been made since. Unfortunately, similar innovations have not been made where Miller's stories are concerned. Hoary when they were used in the original comic books released in the early '90s, the film noir tropes at play here are as stale as the visuals are fresh, and they ultimately undo this production as their familiarity, as well as the unnecessary graphic violence, bred only contempt in this viewer.
Three tales make up the film, and all take place in Basin City, where men are hard, the women loose and daylight nonexistent. Whereas everyone goes to Rick's in Casablanca, all roads lead to Kadies' in this burg, a rundown strip joint where the once vibrant but now bitter dancer Nancy (Jessica Alba) works. Seems she's haunted by her dead savior and only true love Hartigan (Bruce Willis), and plans revenge on his killer, the corrupt Senator Roark (Powers Boothe).
We see how vicious this man-of-the-people is when he and his thugs take care of a young cardsharp by the name of Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who has cleaned him out at the poker table. That the young man might want his own taste of vengeance after he has had his fingers broken and been shot and left for dead in a gutter goes without saying. He's not too bright, but he looks like a brain surgeon next to Dwight (Josh Brolin), a private eye who allows himself to get in deep once more with his old flame Ava (Eva Green), who wants only to manipulate him to her own end.
The film's slick look serves as a distraction from the well-worn story, and for a while, the stark, washed-out black, silver and white tones with the occasional splash of vibrant color seem to be enough.
The ballet-like fighting, the slow-motion action and the striking slivers of white light that accentuate the dark world and actions of its characters are bold visual compositions that you can't help but sit up and pay attention to, so much so that this is one of the few recent films worthy of seeing in 3-D.
However, it all becomes too much in a single moment — when local thug Marv (Mickey Rourke) rips an eyeball out of another character's skull. From that point on, Miller and Rodriguez know no restraint, assaulting us with too many decapitations, splatters of blood and gaping bullet wounds to count. While the violence is of a stylized nature, it's rendered in such a callous, overwrought manner that it borders on the offensive and calls so much attention to itself that it takes the audience out of the film in every instance.
That being said, if you've seen one film noir, then "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" holds little in the way of surprises anyway. A character is wronged, and seeks revenge, it's enacted in a bloody manner — and that's about it.
This adherence to form doesn't do the movie any favors as the stories it contains soon become monotonous, breeding indifference and ultimately boredom in the viewer.
Like so many of the scantily clad women it contains, "A Dame to Kill For" is something to behold, but it soon becomes apparent that little lies beneath its surface.
For DVR alerts, film recommendations and movie news, follow Chuck Koplinski on Twitter at @ckoplinski. For his blog, head to news-gazette.com/blogs/cinema-scoping. Koplinski can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.