Here's what an R rating gets you these days: a few splattery headshots, some glimpses of cable TV-style background nudity, a couple kids and families popped by assassins, a brace of fucks, in dialogue, and one un-bracing fuck, in bed, mostly clothed. During its longueurs, this engagingly grim spy-versus-spymasters time-passer offers the chance to contemplate what an R-rated spy thriller even means anymore: Why is the violence here, which looks miserably messy, less appropriate to children than that of The Expendables 3, which looks like a jolly good lark?
Not that the grimness is always edifying. The antiheroic hit-man spy played by Pierce Brosnan grinds through his world like an FPS video-game badass, dropping everyone his gun ever points at. Since the movie's going all-in on such fantasy, I have to ask: Why include the flashback backstory of a Russian general popping the heroine's parents and siblings and then raping her for most of her teen years? The November Man isn't exposing atrocities; it's using them as justification for the usual heroics.
Still, as far as escapist fluff laced with totally unnecessary real-world horror goes, The November Man isn't wretched. You can follow the action, mostly, and much of it's street-level brutal. I liked the moments where some wily character, chased by the less wily, turns a corner, grabs a shovel or something, and then cold-cocks the sprinting pursuer. As always, there’s still too many scenes of spies looking at the computers and tracking each other, or spies typing in passwords and waiting for access, but they're almost made up for by the memorable old-school stuntwork: Mooks get chucked over balconies and seem to fall into actual physical space.