Movie Review ~ The November Man

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An ex-CIA operative is brought back in on a very personal mission and finds himself pitted against his former pupil in a deadly game involving high level CIA officials and the Russian president-elect.

Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Eliza Taylor, Caterina Scorsone, Bill Smitrovich, Will Patton

Director: Roger Donaldson

Rated: R

Running Length: 108 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  It was only a few short weeks ago that my review for the trailer of The November Man appeared on this website, indicating my cautious optimism that this late summer action flick might be former 007 Pierce Brosnan’s welcome return to his James Bond/Thomas Crown roots.  Sadly, it serves only as a reminder that Brosnan’s cooly effortless action hero is a relic of the past, replaced by the aging and overly earnest titular character projected for audiences around the globe to (hopefully) not see.

I wasn’t aware of this until after the fact, but The November Man is based on the seventh book in a series of spy novels by the late author Bill Granger.  A pet project for Brosnan that finally moved into production after almost a decade of delay, it’s puzzling that the actor would opt to play a character so similar to Bond yet bring to the role none of the efficiency he lent the legendary spy in four films.

Instead, Brosnan makes the actors fatal mistake of attacking a deeply flawed character without really giving us a reason to understand why he’s all rough edges and fisticuffs.  Surely the script by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek (Oblivion) doesn’t seem to mind that it has more plotholes than open road as it bounces from one bland location to another detailing a plot concerning Russian government officials and a possible US cover-up of war crimes.  It all feels like, well, a bargain paperback knockoff of a James Bond plot.

Now I’m not saying the movie doesn’t have some modicum of potential because as an audience member I’ve been craving a tidy action film with political intrigue and near-miss car chases through international locations for some time.  Yet The November Man’s execution is so unruly and unpleasant that it feels like a chore to sit through before you’ve had a chance to get to the bottom of your popcorn.

As sexist as the James Bond franchise has been criticized for being, it pales in comparison to the icky abject misogyny on display here.  Women are treated as mere objects and I think at one point every woman with a speaking line is dragged by her arm around a locale by a gruff man that calls her a word unprintable in full but begins with t and ends with wat.  As brutal as the violence is in the film (and with gunshots to the head and knife wounds galore the film is bloodier than necessary) it’s no match for the distasteful chauvinism on display.

If I’m being honest, I’ve never found Brosnan to be that impressive of an actor.  Though he filled the James Bond suit nicely (in GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough, Die Another Day), Brosnan’s Bond wears thin on repeat viewings and the actor hasn’t found much success in his non-Bond endeavors.  I can see why tackling a character slightly to the left of Bond would be appealing but Brosnan’s teeth gnashing solemnity comes across as more him spoofing his spy thriller past than cutting new ground.

With his Sean Bean looks and Keanu Reeves acting chops, Luke Bracey makes for a lackluster adversary with the young actor unable to make even the simplest of dialogue seem convincing.  He looks too young to be a junior colleague of Brosnan’s well-worn spy and wearing an alarming amount of eyeliner he comes across as an indie-rocker more than the CIA killer he’s supposed to be playing.  An unfortunate subplot involving Brosnan and Bracey locking horns over items in their personal life adds fifteen minutes, one cat, and two extraneous characters to the proceedings.

I’m going to assume supporting players Bill Smitrovich and Will Patton got together and decided to pull one over on the hair team by asking that they switch hairstyles.  Smitrovich’s curly pate is swapped for Patton’s bald chrome dome…and that’s the only good idea either actor brings as both grow fatter as the film drones on from chewing the scenery.  Smitrovich in particular should be absolutely ashamed of himself…as should director Roger Donaldson for casting him.

If there’s one bright spot to the movie, it’s certainly Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) as a woman in need of saving by Brosnan’s off the grid spy.  Though the role is painfully lacking any sort of feminist assuredness, Kurylenko at least makes the wounded bird she’s playing somewhat sympathetic.  Chased by a female assassin (who looks like she was plucked from playing the lead role in a Moscow production of Funny Girl), Kurylenko gets the one true pleasing moment of the film as she brings one character to a nice dénouement.

Still, the film simply cannot overcome its wet noodle leads and a series of plot contrivances so ludicrous that I briefly considered breaking my spoiler-free rule and analyzing them further here.  Yet that would give the film more time than it’s worth because The November Man will be in the discount bin at WalMart before November 2014 is over.

The Silver Bullet ~ The November Man

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Synopsis: An ex-CIA operative is brought back in on a very personal mission and finds himself pitted against his former pupil in a deadly game involving high level CIA officials and the Russian president-elect.

Release Date: August 27, 2014

Thoughts: Though he’s now three films removed from the James Bond series and a sequel to the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair is stalled in development hell, Pierce Brosnan is back on the big screen in full action hero mode with The November Man.  Looking like a nice mix between his 007 days and a Mr. Crown adventure, I’m disappointed that the slick but lengthy trailer seems so full of spoilers but am willing to reserve judgment on the overall experience based on Brosnan’s track record.  Reteaming with his Dante’s Peak director Roger Donaldson (Cocktail), and joined by former Bond babe Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) and newcomer Luke Bracey, we won’t have to wait until November to see if Brosnan’s still got what it takes.

Movie Review ~ Oblivion

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A veteran assigned to extract Earth’s remaining resources begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself.

Stars: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 124 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  I’ll start this review with an admission of bias: I really like futuristic sci-fi films set in a dystopian climate.  From Prometheus to Moon to 2001: A Space Odyssey to 2010: The Year We Make Contact, I just really respond to the chilliness of the whole genre.  So it’s no surprise that early trailers for Oblivion caught my eye and I made it a point to see this film on the biggest screen possible to immerse myself in the world created by director Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) and screenwriters Karl Gajdusek, Michael DeBruyn (who adapted Kosinski original graphic novel)

A lot of people had issues with Kosinski’s Tron: Legacy feeling that it was a meal that looked good but offered no sustenance.  I can see where those detractors were coming from but found that film to be better than its predecessor decades earlier.  Kosinski wisely knows how to use current technology to make a future world look sleek and believable and though Oblivion isn’t as all tech consuming as Tron: Legacy was it’s still a strong entry into the sci-fi genre.

Plot-wise, there’s not a lot here that you haven’t seen before if you’re a fan of science fiction of any kind.  The notion of a future world suffering the after effects of a war with an alien race has been done to death from the truly great films to the very awful direct to television offerings.  What sets this one apart, though, is a focus on stronger character development, impressive visual effects,  and a crack cast that knows exactly what kind of movie they are operating in.

Star Tom Cruise is having a nice renaissance after several years of being the punch line to a never-ending onslaught of couch jumping jokes.  Though he started 2012 strong with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, his next two films didn’t catch fire like everyone had hoped…though to be fair Rock of Ages was a nightmare film with Cruise the only saving grace.  December’s Jack Reacher was vastly underrated and should have been a bigger hit. Oblivion has put Crusie back into a fighting spirit and for good reason…it’s a role tailor made for the action star and it gives him a chance to kick butt while showing a lighter side too.

He’s supported ably by two strong females.  Andrea Riseborough may be my new star to watch…after turning up in Madonna’s directorial debut W/E, she delivered a layered performance in Disconnect and her role here as Cruise’s partner in work and love is nicely complex. We’re never quite sure what side she’s on and even when we think we’ve figured it out, the film throws some nice twists in to keep us guessing.  Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) plays a character with secrets I shan’t give away but proves to be more than a woman that Cruise has to merely save.

Don’t be deceived by ads (or the above poster) that show Morgan Freeman playing a main role in the film.  While he does hold some significance his screen time is severely limited, ending up being more of a cameo appearance than anything.  Melissa Leo is one of the most earnest actresses out there so one should watch her performance here carefully…after the film is over her restraint is quite telling.

Seen in an IMAX theater, Oblivion has a lot of sound and fury…signifying something.  It’s a booming picture with amazing visuals and a sound design seemingly meant to test the sound proofing on any theater (as the credits were rolling I was almost out the door to the theater and could still hear the film playing).  The soundtrack by M83 is electronic heavy (I originally though Tron: Legacy composers Daft Punk had been tapped again for the soundtrack) and works nicely into the action.

This is a film that really should be seen first in the theater for the visuals alone.  It’s not going to revolutionize the sci-fi genre, nor does it really aim to.  It’s a compact re-tread of the best parts of other films that works more than it probably should.  I know the film has its nay-sayers and I completely see where they’d be coming from – but the film experience that I had was very rewarding and very unexpectedly entertaining.

The Silver Bullet ~ Oblivion

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Synopsis: A court martial sends a veteran soldier to a distant planet, where he has to destroy the remains of an alien race. The arrival of an unexpected traveler causes him to question what he knows about the planet, his mission, and himself.

Release Date:  April 19, 2013

Thoughts: 2012 had its highs and lows for Tom Cruise.  He came into 2012 with a hot film (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol), turned in a great performance in a box office bomb (Rock of Ages),  went through a very public divorce, and is ending the year with a new film (Jack Reacher) that is getting above average reviews.  It won’t be long before Cruise will be back with this sci-fi epic from the director of the underrated Tron: Legacy that looks quite entertaining.  Add a cast of interesting faces and impressive effects and Cruise may be back on top by this time next year.