January 5, 2010

Sam Mendes to direct the next Bond flick?

The sale of MGM has the 23rd James Bond movie in a state of flux. Pre-production on the movie was shut down this week until the sale is sorted out, but the next entry is in the new for other reasons. This is just plain odd, but according to 'The Hollywood Reporter' Sam Mendes is deep in negotiations to direct the twenty-third James Bond flick. This is very strange choice because Mendes has zero experience directing action scenes, let alone an action movie. Mendes was an acclaimed stage director - not exactly the training ground for action directors - before he moved behind the camera to make his debut with the fantastic American Beauty back in 1999. He would bag the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director for his efforts, but it appeared that he peaked early. He followed the film up with Road to Perdition; a film I really enjoyed; then his mediocre war flick Jarhead followed; then the dreary, depressing Revolutionary Road and finally last year's Away with Her, a low budget relationship 'dramedy.' It doesn't appear that there's anything on that list that would make him remotely qualified for a big-budget high-profile franchise action flick, but the Bond producers have made curious choices before, including as recently as the last flick in the series. That movie, Quantum of Solace, was helmed by Marc Forster, who had previously directed the dramas Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland and the grossly underrated Will Ferrell vehicle Stranger Than Fiction before making his Bond flick.

There's an argument to be made that a good director is a good director (and make no mistake: I think Mendes is a great filmmaker) but there is also a very different skill set required to make edge of your seat action movies and moving, emotional dramas; and Mendes, with his background in stage direction seems about as far away as you can get from a slam-bam action wizard. What I find more troubling about this pairing is why Mendes would want to do this in the first place. After American Beauty, he could green light and project he wanted as studios lined up to work with him and he opted for Perdition and Jarhead as his next two projects. Jarhead in particular is a telling choice because it's a war movie about the boredom and monotony of war - not about the violence, action and battles. Mendes doesn't seem to be drawn to those kind of stories or that kind of filmmaking. So why would he suddenly want to sign on for a big budget, high profile action juggernaut? The simple answer is: because he needs it. Since his debut with American Beauty, Mendes has seen his stock as a director - and his films box office fortunes plummet. His last film, Away We Go, was made on a micro-budget for less then $8 million and yet he still failed to become a profitable venture making just over $9 million back. When you factor in the film's marketing budget, he managed to lose money on a micro budget project.

It appears Mendes has gone from an Academy Award winning director to a desperate man scrambling to keep his career afloat in just ten years. That being said, much like Michel Gondry stepping behind the camera to make a superhero movie, I'm intrigued by what Mendes will come up with as a Bond director

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