Posted on Thursday, November 12th, 2015 by Jack Giroux
Director Sam Mendes had plenty of experience in theater before directing his first film. The skills he acquired from the stage, like his eye for performances, was evident even in his debut feature American Beauty, which won him his first Oscar. Even when a film from the director doesn’t fully come together, the performances are still worth talking about.
After the jump, read our ranking of Sam Mendes’ films.
The English director has made a gangster film, two Bond sequels, and an unconventional war movie. While Mendes’ filmography is diverse, his characters and films are often defined by self-loathing or self-reflection. The protagonists he follows are generally at a crossroads, asking questions we all think about: “What’s the point of it all?” “Am I a good person?” “Am I like everyone else?” That last question, in particular, plays a major part in his dramas. The couples in American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, and Away We Go are terrified of turning into their neighbors or friends.
Even James Bond questions if he’s no different than the killers in SPECTRE. It’s a forced conflict — why doesn’t anyone mention the fact the government assassin kills bad people? — and it’s one of the many reasons why Spectre is the director’s most frustrating film.
Let’s look back at all the Sam Mendes films ranked below:
7. Spectre (2015)
This is by no means a bad movie, let alone a bad Bond movie. There are plenty of exciting scenes in Spectre. Funnily enough, the most thrilling action sequence is the film’s smallest one: Bond and Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) duking it on the train, with no music playing. It’s a messy, visceral set piece that, admittedly, ends on a weak note. The problem is, the handful of memorable scenes — M (Ralph Fiennes) defending Bond’s license to kill, the opening in Mexico City, and the train fight — are overshadowed by the film’s excessive bloat, thinly written female characters, a laughable villain (his motivation is just ridiculous, and eerily similar to the villain’s motivation in Road to Perdition), and the ending doesn’t hold a candle to the emotional impact of Casino Royale and Skyfall. Daniel Craig remains charming as Bond, but there’s only so much he can do with this script.
Also, it’s refreshing to see Bond sleep with a woman his own age, but it’s not so great to see that woman, played by Monica Bellucci, only used for exposition and eye candy.
6. Revolutionary Road (2008)
The most inconsistent film from the director. The Richard Yates adaptation is often louder than Mendes’ Bond pictures. The opening of Revolutionary Road starts at 11, with the unhappy married couple, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, immediately at each other’s throats. The argument — and the many, many shouting matches that follow — is hard to watch, and not for the intended reason. It’s an oddly cold and calculated picture, with Thomas Newman‘s intrusive score pushing your buttons far too often.
However, there are two performances that somewhat redeem Revolutionary Road. Michael Shannon (Take Shelter) shakes things up and brings some energy and levity to the film. It’s almost too good of a performance, because it makes you want to watch another movie about his brutally honest character. DiCaprio adds nuance to the role of Frank Wheeler, a character at odds with himself. The manchild is living in fear, which Justin Haythe‘s script frequently points out, but DiCaprio makes that fear understandable: he wants to feel alive and not go down the path his forgotten father did, but he also wants the perfect home and attentive housewife. There’s plenty to appreciate and enjoy in Revolutionary Road, just enough to counteract the array of problems.