When your career needs a boost and there are few available top-dollar jobs: take a franchise.
On the heels of disappointments Away We Go ($10 million) and Oscar contender Revolutionary Road ($23 million), Sam Mendes, who is repped by CAA, is in talks to direct the 23rd James Bond film, which is reportedly moving toward a 2011 release, despite the looming sale of MGM. It is in MGM's interest to present its biggest franchise as an ongoing concern.
The internet instantly went wild at the prospect that Mendes' wife Kate Winslet could appear in the film opposite Daniel Craig as 007--an unlikely scenario. A renowned London theater impresario and director who won an Oscar for his first film American Beauty, Mendes would be the first Oscar-winner to direct a Bond film. (Quantum of Solace's Marc Forster directed best picture nominee Finding Neverland , Monster's Ball, starring Oscar-winner Halle Berry, and The Kite Runner, which was nominated for best original score, but he has never been nominated for a directing Oscar.)
These days in Hollywood, it's harder than ever to stay on the A list. The studios are suddenly drawing filmmakers that they would never have been able to land before, partly because the directors can't get their dream projects made. You can bet in another climate, Mendes would have other options. I've always wondered if his heart was in commercial Hollywood filmmaking. He's an intellectual and visually stylish director who is really at home on the stage; movies are an acquired skill for him.
Since American Beauty, Mendes' films have been admired and well-reviewed, but were lackluster b.o. performers. Gangster film Road to Perdition, starring Tom Hanks and Craig, and war film Jarhead, starring Jamie Foxx and Jake Gyllenhaal, were gorgeous, expensive exercises in style that failed to ignite the popular imagination.
When your career is going swimmingly (I've always wanted to see what Quentin Tarantino would do with James Bond), you don't need to direct an action tentpole. I suspected something was wrong with Nine when I heard Rob Marshall was directing Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. I still think that's a disastrous idea--Memoirs of a Geisha was beautifully art-directed and composed but it was inert. It didn't move. Marshall knows from Broadway and movie musicals, but he has never proved that he can do anything else. (Nine is escapist fun, a tweener--not a critical hit or Oscar contender, and not a populist musical.)
Having left big-budget filmmaking for a chance to go indie on Away We Go, Mendes, too, seems to be heading back to the safety of a big-budget studio tentpole.