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007 bondage not a good move for Mendes

Patrick Goldstein
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

LOS ANGELES — No, this isn't an April Fool's prank. According to both the Los Angeles Times and the Hollywood Reporter, Sam Mendes, the wonderfully cerebral and cultured filmmaker who once upon a time won an Oscar for directing "American Beauty," is in discussions to make the new James Bond film, which could go into production as early as this June. Daniel Craig would be onboard, reprising his role as Mr. 007.

While I'm also happy to see filmmakers practicing their craft, this is a bad decision in oh, so many ways, not to mention a depressing example of how hard it is for filmmakers to find any good studio material to work with. Not that I'm letting Mendes off the hook here. His career has been in steep decline, both in terms of critical as well as commercial success. In fact, if you look at the grosses on his five feature films, they form a graph that goes in only one direction — straight down.

Mendes' biggest-grossing film was "American Beauty," his splashy Hollywood debut that made $130 million domestically (it also won five Oscars, including best picture). His second film, "Road to Perdition," made $104 million. His next, "Jarhead," topped out at $62 million. "Revolutionary Road" only grossed $22 million while his most recent film, last year's road-trip comedy "Away We Go," struggled to earn $9.4 million.

Many critics would say the quality index on Mendes' films has gone just as precipitously downhill, with "Revolutionary Road," adapted from a brilliant Richard Yates cult novel, being an especially chilly, claustrophobic letdown.

It seems obvious that Mendes — or more likely, his CAA agents — decided it was time to grab hold of a commercial piece of material that could not only offer a payday but an opportunity to put up some respectable box-office numbers.

But a Bond movie is a Bond movie. There's really no way to put a personal stamp on a series whose fans demand all sorts of familiar fare, from buxom vixens to high-powered action scenes. It's almost by definition hack work, the equivalent of hiring Irving Penn to do a photo spread for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Even if Mendes does a solid, professional job, the resulting film will do little to change anyone's perception of his commercial touch (or lack of it).

I wish Mendes would go back to his roots and spend a year or two refreshing himself in the London theater, where he could work with great actors and regain some of his old bravado.

Great directors thrive on challenges. When Martin Scorsese found himself in a rut years ago, he didn't look to Bond for salvation. He rejuvenated himself with a low-budget thriller called "After Hours," which led to "The Last Temptation of Christ" and "GoodFellas." When Darren Aronofsky flopped with "The Fountain," he didn't beg Warners to let him direct a Harry Potter sequel. He found just enough money to get "The Wrestler" made, which reminded everyone of his seemingly limitless filmmaking energy and intensity.

Say it ain't so, Sam. For someone of your talents, doing a James Bond movie is really the worst example of stooping to conquer.

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