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Bond 23 Update: Sam Mendes in Talks to Direct

by Anne Thompson
January 5, 2010 11:20 AM
4 Comments
  • |
Thompson on Hollywood

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.

4 Comments

  • PD100 | January 6, 2010 7:15 AMReply

    It's my understanding that Campbell had been asked to do more Bond films, both during the Brosnan era and after Casino, but that he turned them down.

    If it's come to where directing mega-budget action franchise films is the only way filmmakers like Mendes can even get their work in front of mass audiences, then we might as well turn off the lights on the American film industry all together. It is a dark time, indeed.

    Then again, if he just loves the idea of doing a Bond film, then that's great. I'm totally open to it.

  • Scott Mendelson | January 6, 2010 3:56 AMReply

    I'm no fan of Mendes, but I wouldn't call Road to Perdition an underperformer. It was a 2 hour dark crime drama that grossed $100 million domestic and $81 million overseas in the middle of summer 2002. As for Bond, I say give the franchise to Martin Campbell with a red bow attached. He's saved the series twice in a row and (pardon the cliche) nobody does 007 better than Campbell.

  • Joe Valdez | January 6, 2010 1:55 AMReply

    Terrific piece, Anne. I always feel better informed when you take the temperature of the film industry, even if the mercury indicates a fever.

    The recession has probably given studios the same lever over talent that fast food joints or retailers currently enjoy: workers who were drawing an annual salary very recently are now willing to work a cash register to make ends meet.

    I'm not a fan of Sam Mendes and can't get excited over anything he's involved in or rumored to be involved in, but do relish the possibility of Kate Winslet playing a female 00 agent.

  • Yojimbo_5 | January 6, 2010 1:10 AMReply

    Oof. Despite its box office, "Quantun of Solace" was a truly terrible Bond film with incoherent action sequences and airs of pretension. The Bonds seem to do better when B-list directors (like Martin Campbell) come in and polish their work a bit. But put Lee Tamahori or Marc Forster in there and you have directors who feel like they're "slumming." Sam Mendes has shown no predilection for action. And the trick with Bond is to make a good Bond film that can stand up as a good drama or suspense film. The ones that have are rare.

    As for Tarantino, he'd be a disaster--did you notice the "Elvis" henchman in "Quantum" that vaguely resembled QT, who's never shut up about how -filming "Casino Royale" was "his" idea, and the Broccoli kids didn't appreciate it (they had, after all, just acquired the rights). He wants to do another "Kill Bill" movie, let him (although I thought "Inglourious Basterds" was a fantastic movie). The Coen Brothers wouldn't work, either, although I'm looking forward to "True Grit." On the other hand, Guy Ritchie expressed interest in the past...and I saw "Sherlock Holmes" as an attempt by him to make producers see him in a bigger budgeted light.

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