• Rating: R for language, violence, nudity, drug use
• Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
LOS ANGELES - Onetime 007 Pierce Brosnan embraces a darker take on spycraft in Roger Donaldson's "The November Man," playing a former CIA agent whose autumnal nickname acknowledges his tendency to leave few alive when he passes through a town. A familiar string of dark secrets, shifting allegiances and (wo)man-who-knew-too-much pursuit propels the storyline (adapted from one in a series of Bill Granger novels), giving Brosnan the opportunity to prove his cool remains intact, sans tux and gadgets. "November Man" won't do anything like Bond's box office, but will satisfy the actor's fans and moviegoers biding their time until the next top-shelf le Carre-style thriller.
Here, Brosnan plays Peter Devereaux, who in his day was known for his unwillingness to form personal attachments that could compromise his duties. Like all spies, though, he had his secrets: When the woman he once loved (and who secretly bore him a daughter) dies while spying in Moscow, he becomes the enemy of her killer - his old protege David Mason (Luke Bracey), whose bosses at Langley ordered the hit lest she be captured by the Russians.
Make that one Russian in particular: Corrupt former general Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski), who is on track to be the next Russian president and wants to erase anyone who knows about the atrocities he committed in the Second Chechen War. Devereaux's ex was one of those secret-holders, and in following her leads, he winds up saving Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko) from Federov's top assassin. (Said killer is a woman, whose introductory scenes make one wonder why we so rarely meet hitmen who do balletic splits in order to limber up before a kill.)
Fournier is a social worker who has helped some of the girls Federov sold into the sex trade, including one named Mira he made his personal slave. Mira overheard a lot during those years, and powerful people around the globe want to find her before she tells anyone what she knows.
Though the film's cat-and-mouse scenes hardly compare to those in a Bourne movie, they're enjoyable and only occasionally ridiculous. (A long sequence in which Devereaux and Mason taunt each other on the phone during a chase makes little sense except for those longing to hear "You've lost your touch, old man" cliches.) Brosnan, whose old franchise made a smart turn away from superspy fantasy after his departure, plays the gritty side of spookdom well, and the film offers him (sometimes puzzling) opportunities to show just how nasty he can be, even as he's risking life and limb to save a stranger.
"Don't put your faith in me, Alice - I promise I'll disappoint you," Peter says at one point, and Brosnan's grave delivery almost makes you ignore the fact that it's exactly the kind of line Pee-wee Herman ruined for troubled loners when he gave Dottie the kiss-off back in 1985's "Pee-wee Herman's Big Adventure." This episode in Granger's "November Man" series, "There Are No Spies," was published two years after that, and Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek's script does little to disguise the fact that we've seen and heard all of this many, many times since.