Hold on to your Walther PPK’s, Pierce Brosnan is back in a big James Bond-style action spy thriller that is miles better than any James Bond film that’s come along in a decade. Cahir O'Doherty hails Brosnan’s performance in the brilliantly tense new flick "The November Man."
Nicknamed the November Man by his fellow agents because after he rolls through nothing and no one is left standing, Brosnan’s superspy exists on the colder end of the secret agent spectrum. If he has a heart at all, it’s in deep freeze.
But moviegoers will be startled by just how tense and well directed Brosnan’s new thriller is, and after the Irish actor’s own long stint as James Bond, they’ll be surprised by how realistic "The November Man" is by comparison with his old work.
At 61 Brosnan’s held up amazingly well. Still a strikingly handsome leading man who knows how to cut a dash though an Eastern European capital in a tailor-made Tom Ford suit, he’s in command of the film from the first moment he appears and he gives a performance that easily surpasses his old Bond days.
Produced by Brosnan’s own Irish DreamTime production company, the story is much more than just a vehicle for its star. As the film opens we learn that Peter Devereaux (Brosnan) is a highly trained ex-CIA agent who has finally thrown in the towel on his lethal career and has been enjoying a quiet life off the grid in Switzerland.
But soon he’s being coaxed back out of retirement for one last mission to protect the valuable Russian witness Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko). Then the mission makes him a target of his former CIA friend David Mason (Luke Bracey). Soon there is no one and nothing that Devereaux can trust, and nothing he won’t do to protect his vulnerable witness.
What follows is a cat and mouse game that gets more complex and more absorbing as it moves. It’s also a remarkable return to form from an Irish leading man whose career, like Liam Neeson’s, is finding an unexpected second act playing tough as nails alpha males you should not cross.
By anyone’s standards Brosnan has had a remarkable career. He began by playing an agent on both sides of the law in the early 1980s TV hit Remington Steele in which he played a former conman who finds a new career as a dashing detective. The show ran from 1982 until 1987, and Brosnan’s good looks and suave charm prophetically suggested he might one day make a good James Bond.
But Brosnan’s contract with NBC prevented him from landing the coveted 007-spy role in the late ‘80s when speculation about his involvement revived interest in his canceled TV show.
His breakthrough Bond role wouldn’t come until 1995’s "GoldenEye," which grossed an astounding $350 million worldwide and went on to become the most successful Bond film since the franchise’s 1970s heyday with films like "Moonraker."
That kind of massive fly-around-the-world budget is missing from "The November Man," but in its place is a particularly atmospheric and smartly written script that pulls you in from the first scene.
This is the kind of role that Brosnan was born to play, and it will be interesting to see if he can hit the same audience sweet spot that Neeson does with his latest crop of action hero capers.
One thing's for sure – Brosnan is far now from his place of origin. Born in Navan, Co. Meath in 1953, Brosnan had the kind of childhood that writer John McGahern could have scripted. At the age of four his father abandoned the family and left his wife to raise their only child.
In the 1950s to be fatherless was to be socially radioactive. Left without an income, Brosnan’s mother had no option but to move to London to work as a nurse. His grandparents Phillip and Kathleen Smith raised Brosnan from then on until they passed away and he was eventually sent to live in a boarding house. His mother made annual visits home to see him, but his life was a lonely one growing up, he recalls.
“To be Catholic in the ‘50s, and to be Irish Catholic in the ‘50s, and have a marriage which was not there, a father who was not there, consequently, the mother, the wife suffered greatly,” Brosnan said in a previous interview.
“My mother was very courageous. She took the bold steps to go away and be a nurse in England. Basically wanting a better life for her and myself. My mother came home once a year, twice a year.”
He didn’t let the loneliness or abandonment define him, though. Instead he did his best to adjust to his less than ideal circumstances, providing him with early acting training that would stand to him later on he says.
At the age of 10 Brosnan finally left Ireland to be reunited with his mother and her new husband who were living in the Scottish village of Longniddry, East Lothian.
Later the family moved back to London, where Brosnan was educated at Elliott School, a comprehensive school in the southwest of the city. But his transition from Ireland to England was far from smooth.
“When you go to a very large city, a metropolis like London, as an Irish boy of 10, life suddenly moves pretty fast,” he recalled.
“From a little school of, say, seven classrooms in Ireland, to this very large comprehensive school with over 2,000 children. And you’re Irish. And they make you feel it. The British have a wonderful way of doing that, and I had a certain deep sense of being an outsider.”
The nickname they gave him at the school was “Irish.” It stuck.
After leaving school Brosnan eventually wound up training to become an actor at the Drama Centre in London. The experience transformed his life and gave the lonely kid he had been something that acting has given to many – a second chance, an opportunity to escape himself for an hour or two.
“When I found acting, or when acting found me, it was a liberation. It was a stepping-stone into another life, away from a life that I had, and acting was something I was good at, something which was appreciated. That was a great satisfaction in my life.”
These days Brosnan finds time for all of his passions, which include working as an actor, an artist and an activist for the environment, children’s welfare (his own background gives him particular insights), animal rights and women’s rights, among others.
At the stage of his career, where he can pick projects that reflect his passions, it’s obvious that "The November Man" offers both a brilliant espionage thriller and a subtle critique of what can happen when spies cross the line and become as morally suspect as the people the people they're supposed to challenge. That message is as chilling and as timely as Brosnan’s return to the big screen.