Pierce Brosnan, who served queen and country as James Bond in the 1990s (and once in the aughts), is back in spy mode in The November Man, although this op - ex-CIA, not MI6 - is a harder, more cynical chap. In retirement in Lausanne, Peter Devereaux has been bruised and burned and saddened by all the deadly games he's had to play. Better to live out his life sipping espressos on the shores of Lake Geneva, listening to Satie, catching up on his Joyce.
When his old handler from Langley arrives with a special request, Devereaux feels compelled to accept the job: extract an agent from Moscow. "She wants to come in. She has something that's scaring even her," the hawk-eyed Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) tells Devereaux. "And she asked for you."
An efficient, if not exactly inspiring, espionage thriller, full of high-tech gadgetry (surveillance drones! flash drives!) and low-tech action (car chases! shootouts! a shovel to the head!), The November Man combines a couple of familiar tropes: 1) the trusted protégé who becomes your nemesis, and 2) the witness everyone is after, and who happens to look like a supermodel.
The former would be David Mason (Luke Bracey), a CIA hitman who once partnered with Devereaux (we see them in a fateful pairing in the film's prologue). The latter would be Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko, who worked with Daniel Craig's 007 in Quantum of Solace), a Belgrade social worker who shelters victims of sex traffickers - and whose knowledge of the whereabouts, and backstory, of one of these women has put her in utmost danger.
The Russians want her. The Americans want her. And Devereaux wants her - well, at least he wants her to play another etude on the piano, while they sip tumblers of Scotch, hiding out in an apartment they've broken into so they can keep an eye on Mason and catch a little shut-eye.
The November Man, directed by Roger Donaldson (No Way Out, Dante's Peak - also with Brosnan), is based on a series of books by Bill Granger. Devereaux's nickname comes by way of his wintry efficiency: After he passes through, no one is left alive. So don't invite the guy to Thanksgiving.
Brosnan, who has taken some satisfying acting detours of late (as a Tony Blair-like ex-prime minister in The Ghost Writer, and as the all-business widower in Love Is All You Need), slips back into his intel identity with seeming effortlessness. The watchfulness, the calm, the jujitsu moves, the walking-through-rooms-with-the gun-held-straight-out-in-front-of-you stuff.
The villain (the obvious one, anyway) is Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski), a piggish, perhaps Putin-ish, former military man running for the Russian presidency. Like the Cold War years of yore, the Cold War years of right-now have made the Russians an easy enemy for Hollywood to embrace.
So brace yourself for more Kremlin fiends. Peter Devereaux probably is.
The November Man *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Roger Donaldson. With Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Lazar Ristovski, Bill Smitrovich. Distributed by Relativity Media.
Running time: 1 hour, 48 mins.
Parent's guide: R (violence, profanity, sex, adult themes).
Playing at: area theaters.EndText