Sam Mendes


Date: April 21, 2011 Updated : 04th May 2013

Author: Srivathsa

Though the personal quote of Sam Mendes, the new generation American director, who won the Best director acclaim for his very first film, states "I don't want to be known for one thing. I don't want to have an adjective based around my name. 'Lynchian', I know what that is, I know what 'Kubrickian' is, and I know what 'Bergmanesque' means. But there isn't going to be, and I don't want there to be, a 'Mendesian'.", I call his movies, characteristically Mendesian. That’s because they have their characteristic inner chaos and a firm way of revealing them. But, true to his words, Mendes doesn’t stick to a particular genre or a way of film making. His films expose characters that struggle from the inside, to find a way through. Mendes, being a stage director, has the idiosyncratic method of peeking into the character's heart.

Sam Mendes debut film "American Beauty (1999)" is a story about a dysfunctional suburban family. "American Beauty" is a sort of revelation for the movies that handled dysfunctional families. Kevin Spacey plays Lester Burnham, who despises his job. The film revolves around the hollow existence of the society itself. It's about life, where we let ourselves behind the bars and strive to break it. And when we break it, it is often too late. There is a poignant scene where in the alleged "lunatic" marijuana smoker, screens his shots of a plastic bag dancing in the breeze, to his girlfriend. Mendes acutely involves the philosophical motive behind the movie, predominantly in such scenes. It's about leading more meaningful lives, which we endeavour to, regrettably not comprehending, that it's well within us. With much of sexuality, philosophy and black comedy, "American Beauty" still remains, the director's best venture. The movie won a lot of accolades including the prestigious Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director (along with Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Actor for Kevin Spacey). The emotional response to the mystically rewarding movie is very convincing.

"Road to Perdition (2002)" is a period crime drama, that followed up, Mendes' debut. The movie is an adaptation from the graphic novel with the same name by Max Allan Collins. It follows the life of hitman, played by the ever versatile, Tom Hanks. The movie is not about just violence and organized crime, but about the father – son relationship and the qualms of parenthood. Impeccably cinematographed and rivetingly directed, "Road to Perdition" is a fine example of Mendes's eye for character etching and fluently flawless direction. The movie gathers a lot of momentum as a thriller and its noir-ish atmospheric, sepia tone sets on a haunting graphic memory. The protagonist travels through his irreversible choice of violence, and Mendes habitually captures this philosophy of riding to hell, with a metaphor of "water" with "death". "Road to Perdition" is as mystic as "American Beauty" in its own way. Although it won only a single Academy Award, for Best Cinematography, "Road to Perdition" is nothing less that an overlooked gem by Sam Mendes.

"Jarhead (2005)", Sam Mendes' third directorial undertaking and is based on the memoirs by U.S. Marine Anthony Swofford. The place of interest here is the Gulf War. As in his earlier movies, "Jarhead" begins with a voice over narration, which remains his trademark. Mendes' touch on the war is unlike the other war movies. It cleverly touches the nature of war, but recurrently visits the heaviness of boredom, thoughts of home and life, long waits and stands during the non operations. Finally, when the protagonist is provided with his combat mission, the movie becomes, even more profound, overwhelmed with psychological and philosophical tones. Even when, it is pretty much unjust to weigh "Jarhead" against Coppola's war masterpiece, "Apocalypse Now (1979)", there are virtually few thoughts that were in common. Mendes' juxtaposition of the surreal horror and philosophy, depresses the audience, but uplifts the movie. Mendes' hero's war memories at the end are very different from the ones that the Vietnam War veteran has at the near end of the movie and so are our memories watching a war film.

"Revolutionary Road (2008)" is a film that’s displays more of the experience that Sam Mendes had gained in the course of his three-movies journey and of course with a few of his producer's credit. The movie is based on Richard Yates novel with the same name. "Revolutionary Road" on a high plane, resembles, the suburban dysfunction dealt in Mendes' first feature "American Beauty (1999) and most likely that’s the only attribute that is common in both the films. With two mesmerising lead performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, Mendes heart achingly paces the movie towards a shattering climax. When the movie gets dark, it gets dark sympathetically, since it deals with the dreams of people; people who love each other, but want to live their own lives. The audience tend to get occupied in every way and the profoundly moving experience fashioned by the atmospheric direction of Sam Mendes, extends the spotlight of the literary justice of the movie. Mendes' prophecy of vulnerable people trying to break the fetters of the futile life in search of realization, and the despondency of pain struck hearts is something to be eulogized about. It is indubitably, one of the best films of the year.

"Away We Go (2009)" , followed the truly terrific "Revolutionary Road". The movie is about a couple, trying to find a perfect place for their family (including their to be born child) to settle. "Away we go" is much of a Reitman styled movie, but lacks the comedic effervescence and punch soaked screenplay. Even when, "Away we go" is not devoid of its Mendes' moments and extensive characters, the shades of his directional hues are dissipative. There lies a lot of fabrication, unlike his other movies. The British filmmaker's eye for surreal and subtle philosophy, which epitomizes his movies, doesn’t find a good place in "Away we go". Nevertheless, "Away we go" is a good piece of film making. The audience might feel it refreshing against his previous darkly involving movies.

"Skyfall (2012)", the 23rd James Bond film was a stylish, trendsetting and sleek entry into the franchise. Starring Daniel Craig as James Bond, “Skyfall” was raved as one of the best Bond films ever. Mendes’ Bond was not young, and devoid of the gimmickry gadgets, but a weary man, who struggles to find his self wisdom, but he still believes in what he does. With fanstastic direction and faultless cinematography, “Skyfall” also went on to be one of the best movies of the year.By now, for those who were criticizing Mendes for his mostly action less filmography, were proved wrong.

Shuffling between theatres and movies, Sam Mendes, is undeniably a great find in the new generation directors. He is a director, who puts forward his morale ideas and philosophical tones in direct meaningful and delightful passion. May be his attraction towards the theatrical plays of the great Anton Chekhov, adds up to his splendid style of sensational direction. Coming up, is his directional venture with Daniel Craig starring action movie, "Bond 24". It is now not quite a different genre to jump in, for Mendes. But having said that, Mendes is a man who doesn’t want to restrict himself as "Mendesian" and no one can doubt his superlative sense of commendable direction.

Best: American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Revolutionary Road, Skyfall

Must Watch: American Beauty


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