Ever since Taken, Liam Neeson has pretty much cornered the market as the thinking man's AARP action hero. However, he can't star in every film that requires a more mature badass, and Pierce Brosnan is more than happy to step into his shoes in Roger Donaldson's well-plotted, old-school spy thriller The November Man.
Brosnan stars as Devereaux, a CIA agent with a particular set of skills, who is brought out of retirement when a fellow spy -- also the mother of his daughter -- wants to end her undercover work in Russia and pass along information that will bring down politician Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski). When the seemingly routine extraction goes lethally wrong, Devereaux finds himself on the run from Mason (Luke Bracey), a talented but hotheaded CIA agent he mentored years before.
Devereaux, the CIA, and the Russians all want to locate a young refugee whom would-be Russian leader Federov kept as a sex slave during his time as a general. The only lead to her whereabouts is a social worker named Alice (Olga Kurylenko), whom Devereaux locates first. Now, he must protect both her and his own daughter, as well as expose the truth about Federov's criminal behavior, before powerful enemies kill all of them.
Director Roger Donaldson has always been a hack, although that isn't a judgment about his talents; it's simply to indicate that he's a director-for-hire, the closest thing 21st century Hollywood has to the filmmakers who cranked out a half-dozen or so functional, anonymous movies every year back in the "golden days." Action isn't his forte, as he proves with the muddled editing of the fight and chase sequences in The November Man, but he's adept at building tension -- especially in a scene involving an assassination attempt on Federov.
Donaldson has made highly entertaining films, and a few bombs, and he's almost always at the mercy of the script. That's very true here, and screenwriters Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek have done an admirable job handling the twisty plot of Bill Granger's novel There Are No Spies. The November Man is fun to watch on a sheer "how is this going to play out?" level of interest. Sadly, the duo are also responsible for the film's worst element: really terrible dialogue. At one point, Alice meets up with an investigative journalist and he tells her, completely unprompted, what hotel Federov is staying in -- that's the most glaring example of how dull and functional the dialogue is.
The other big sticking point is that the picture's theme, about how women are forever abused, oppressed, and used by powerful men, gets confused. This is the kind of B-movie that wants to take the moral high ground when it comes to the issue of the abuse of women, yet still encourages us to enjoy watching bombshells use their seduction skills on the men they are trying to manipulate. Adding to the mixed message is a female Russian assassin, who proves to be the scariest of Devereaux's many pursuers. The character should have been male to keep the feminist themes of the film coherent.
Brosnan, however, knows how to carry himself in this kind of part -- you can take the man out of Bond, but you can't ever quite take Bond out of the man. Throw in a bunch of solid supporting turns, including Bill Smitrovich as Devereaux's former boss, decent pacing, and beautifully photographed international locations, and The November Man is a decent programmer that will satisfy genre enthusiasts.