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THE NOVEMBER MAN is a hard R spy thriller starring Pierce Brosnan as a retired CIA agent who goes up against his former bosses when one of them orders a hit on the woman who happens to be the mother of his 12-year-old daughter. Although you root for the retired agent’s success against his former bosses and against an evil Russian politician, he undermines his moral standing when he threatens the life of an innocent bystander about halfway through the movie. NOVEMBER MAN also contains excessive crude language and two explicit sex scenes, including a brief rape scene where the camera lingers a bit too long on what’s happening.
The movie’s lewd content and its depiction of rank corruption within the CIA is abhorrent and Anti-American. Depicting corruption in the CIA or the American government isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the CIA in this movie is depicted like some kind of Nazi or communist organization where following orders no matter what is a basic rule. Ironically, one of the story’s major character conflicts is between the hero and his former trainee, who fails to follow the hero’s orders in an opening sequence. The trainee’s failure results in the hero holding a grudge against him through most of the movie. These plot points seem inconsistent, to say the least. If the bad guys are evil guys who demand that their underlings follow orders for the good of some higher purpose, no matter what, then the hero has the same major flaw. It’s hard, if not impossible, to sympathize with such a “hero.”
In the story, based on one of 13 novels in a spy series, Pierce Brosnan is Peter Devereaux, a former CIA agent living in Switzerland. The movie opens on Peter’s last mission in 2008 before retiring, where he was still training a CIA spy named David Mason. For some reason not clear in the movie, Peter gets really upset when David shoots and kills an assassin at the wrong time.
Five years later, Peter’s old boss, a man named Hanley, asks him to help bring out an undercover agent named Natalia. Natalia is working undercover with an evil Russian politician named Federov, who just may be the next president. Federov has a shady past in the second war against the Muslim Jihadists who were slaughtering people in the Russian province of Chechnya (circa 1999 to 2001).
In Belgrade (now in Serbia, which used to be called Yugoslavia) during a conference, Natalia leaves with the identity of a young Chechen refugee Federov raped and forced to become involved in the sex trade. The refugee knows some other secrets regarding Federov’s military career in Chechnya, secrets that could ruin him.
During Natalia’s escape, Federov gets wind of her betrayal and orders Russian spies to kill her immediately. As they close in while Peter spirits Natalia away, the boss of Peter’s former boss orders a CIA assassin to shoot her dead. The assassin is Peter’s old protégé. The problem is, Peter at one time loved Natalia, who also just happens to be the mother of his 12-year-old daughter.
Peter decides to explore the reasons behind Natalia’s death, including locating the Chechen refugee and finding out what she knows. This leads him to a young female social worker in Belgrade who helps female refugees, especially those who became trapped in the sex trade. It also pits him against the CIA, his former protégé and Federov, the evil Russian politician.
Though well made to a certain extent, THE NOVEMBER MAN makes a major storytelling mistake when it has its hero threaten the life of an innocent bystander, a young woman who has a one-night stand with the hero’s former trainee. MOVIEGUIDE® stopped rooting for this character during this scene and found it hard to get back on track with the story’s flow from that point, even during the end when the villain kidnaps the hero’s daughter to force him to surrender the young woman he’s trying to protect. This, and the movie’s gratuitous lewd content, which also interrupt the narrative flow, prevent NOVEMBER MAN from becoming a four-star movie. Coupled with the excessively negative portrayal of America’s major spy apparatus, this renders this particular spy thriller abhorrent. Even the violence gets excessive and distasteful, with a few too many graphic gunshots to the head, complete with blood spraying. To a certain extent, all movies with lots of action violence are meant to titillate the audience, but NOVEMBER MAN always seems to go too far. MOVIEGUIDE® has to wonder if the filmmakers purposely went out of their way to offend. Whatever the case, their movie not only offends, it also seems to leave some unanswered questions and some confusion behind it.
Today’s filmmakers and storytellers need to remember the words of the mystery writer Raymond Chandler, one of the inventors and most talented practitioners of what used to be called “hardboiled” fiction, which became the foundation for what is called “film noir,” the atmospheric genre created by Hollywood in the 1940s. Chandler said all true art contains a “quality of redemption.” Also, although he specialized in writing about private detectives as the hero, his words can apply to all heroes. The hero doesn’t have to be perfect, Chandler said (in fact, he preferred it if the hero had at least a couple flaws, or a bit of an edge, because that’s the reality of the human condition and the “mean streets” that every modern city has). Thus, the hero should be a man (or a woman) “who is not himself mean, and neither tarnished nor afraid. . . . a man of honor – by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. . . . [and] if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things.” MOVIEGUIDE® could add a lot more to what Chandler says here in his little article on murder mysteries and heroes (hardboiled or not hardboiled), “The Simple Art of Murder,” but suffice it to say that THE NOVEMBER MAN not only fails the Chandler test, it also fails the MOVIEGUIDE® test.

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