Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sam Mendes to direct Bond 23?

This is not new news, but my work schedule has been murder the last few days. Anyway, the rumblings seem to dictate that MGM is in negotiations with Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Jarhead, Away We Go, Revolutionary Road) to direct the would-be sequel to Quantum of Solace. On the surface, this would seem to be a dumb idea, as he seems to be the same type as Marc Forster, a respected actor's director with zero action experience. Since Quantum of Solace was victimized by mixed word of mouth due to its hyper-stylized action-editing and its overly hand-wringing politics, it would seem odd to basically dip into the same well twice.

First of all, I rather liked Quantum of Solace. Especially on repeat viewings, it plays like an intricately plotted, socially-conscious, character-driven action flick that is also a tough and mean James Bond film. Structurally, it's basically a normal 125-minute James Bond adventure with all of the fat trimmed out. Yes, there are two too many action scenes (the boat chase and the plane crash), and much of the (terrifically staged and refreshingly real) action is edited in that hyper Paul Greengrass fashion. But the film works as a successful 'act two' to the arc set up by Martin Campbell's Casino Royale. Like one long James Bond stage play, Casino Royale is the longer first act, with the set-up, the character intros, and the narrative establishment. Quantum of Solace is the shorter second act, more focused on pay-offs and conclusions. Viewed without expectations, Casino Royale is an all-time great 007 film while Quantum of Solace is still a damn good 007 picture.

Of course, any pick to helm the next James Bond picture who isn't named Martin Campbell is going to make me roll my eyes, but his plate is a little full right now. So while he may have made the two of the best Bond pictures in franchise history, and while I would love for him to become a modern-day John Glen (director of the best and worst Bond films of the 80s, The Living Daylights and A View to a Kill) and do a bunch of them in a row, he seems to be making the movies that he wants to make at the moment, so more power to him. So, assuming that Campbell won't be back, I'm of two minds of the situation.

On one hand, as long as MGM is going to make a James Bond adventure every two or three years, why not let a bunch of 'against-type' auteurs play around in that particular sandbox? And for all the grief that Forster took for Quantum of Solace's action scenes, the action sequences themselves were rather wonderful (lots of top-notch practical effects and stunt-work), it was just the choppy editing that killed their impact. And frankly, given the choice, I'd rather have solid characters and rich storytelling at the expense of action than vice-versa. One choice gets you The World Is Not Enough, the other gets you Die Another Day. And who doesn't have their list of directors (M. Night Shyamalan, Wes Craven, Bill Paxton, John Singleton) whom they'd love to see take a crack at a Bond flick?

On the other hand, if said philosophy were in place, Martin Campbell never would have gotten the job for Goldeneye. He was just coming off a little-seen futuristic prison movie called No Escape, plus he had directed one of the finest episodes of television in the history of the medium (Homicide: Life on the Street's "Three Men and Adena"). So, perhaps the Bond producers should try to 'make stars' rather than hire them. I'm thinking solid filmmakers who've never really busted out, like Jonathan Mostow or Clark Johnson. Of course, the biggest problem I have with this choice is two-fold: Mendes isn't quite different enough a direction away from Marc Forrester, and I'm just not a Sam Mendes fan. I've actively disliked every one of his pictures save for Away We Go. If you want to hire a technically proficient action director, hire one. If you want to think outside the box, don't pick from the same box you used last time. We'll see...

Scott Mendelson

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