Review: November

November is a third-rate whodunit which clumsily employs the gimmicky Sixth Sense template for its tale of trauma-induced denial.

Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

Damn M. Night Shyamalan for inspiring crud like November, a third-rate whodunit which clumsily employs the gimmicky Sixth Sense template for its tale of trauma-induced denial. As with Shyamalan’s misdirection-obsessed thrillers, director Greg Harrison’s stinker involves a tortured protagonist with a tenuous grasp of reality who, by story’s end, learns that all is not as she had believed. However, with a surprise denouement that’s telegraphed right from the jittery opening credit montage, and a load of unsubtle visual signifiers (spilled wine spreading over a tablecloth looks like blood! A key photograph looks like a person’s arm lying on the ground!), the film proves that Harrison’s insufferable Groove was no fluke.

Benjamin Brand’s three-part script—separated by head-smackingly transparent title cards that read “denial” or “acceptance,” and rife with embarrassing clues—offers three variations on photography teacher Sophie’s (Courtney Cox) attempts to deal with her boyfriend Hugh’s (James LeGros) murder during a convenience store robbery. A revisionist narrative in which each segment finds Sophie progressing from psychological refutation to acknowledgement, the symbolism-infatuated story is plagued by a deathly obviousness exemplified by an often-seen newspaper headline (“Is Modernism Dead?”) and the decision to repeatedly use a song whose lyrics begin “Don’t want to know where you been all night.” Harrison compounds such shortcomings via a visual schema (intended to reflect Sophie’s cognitive awakening) that involves drab, murky mini-DV hues giving way to brighter, pixilated shades of ugly, as well as by a general inability to distinguish his film from its legion of mind-bending predecessors.

Courtney Cox dons dark glasses and a plain Jane haircut while James LeGros exudes palpable disinterest, but both are merely misused instruments in a tone-deaf film which confoundingly believes that adultery (and the ensuing guilt) might actually turn a woman into a schizophrenic nutjob. “You decide what’s in the frame, but it’s also important what’s left out,” says Sophie to her photo class students, a tagline-ready pronouncement meant to imply that Harrison’s utilization of different camera aperture speeds, quicksilver editing, and buzzing sound effects all hint at a deeper “truth” lurking just out of sight. The detective working Hugh’s murder sums up the wretched November more accurately, however, when he criticizes Sophie’s fuzzy crime scene pictures as being “too arty for their own good.”

 Cast: Courtney Cox, James LeGros, Michael Ealy, Nora Dunn, Nick Offerman, Anne Archer, Matthew Carey, Robert Wu  Director: Greg Harrison  Screenwriter: Benjamin Brand  Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics  Running Time: 73 min  Rating: R  Year: 2004  Buy: Video

Nick Schager

Nick Schager is the entertainment critic for The Daily Beast. His work has also appeared in Variety, Esquire, The Village Voice, and other publications.

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