Since the latest Bond movie Skyfall is relatively old news, we thought we’d focus on the other achievements of British theatre and film director Sam Mendes. At ÉCU we’re naturally most interested in his role in making independent movies. Also catching our attention is the UK based independent film and theatre production company Neal Street Productions, which was set up by Mendes, Pippa Harris and Caro Newling. With Harris at the helm of the film side of production, the company has produced Away We Go (2009), Revolutionary Road (2008), Things We Lost in the Fire (2007), Starter for Ten (2006) and Jarhead (2005). Three of these were directed by Mendes.

Mendes took the film world by storm with his highly acclaimed American Beauty (1999), which earned him an Academy and Golden Globe Award for Best Director. Already a successful stage director, Mendes gained recognition for his talent in film with this movie. American Beauty charts the mid-life crisis of Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) and plays with the notions of superficiality and conformism in American society. Mendes directed the crime film Road to Perdition (2002) next which featured prominent Hollywood stars such as Paul Newman, Tom Hanks, Daniel Craig and Jude Law.

As the director of the war drama feature Jarhead, Mendes moved into indie film territory. The title is derived from military slang and the plot is based on a U.S. Marine (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who opts to engage in combat in Iraq during the Gulf War in 1991. The indie film that he would next direct was the poignant Revolutionary Road (based on Richard Yates’ novel of the same name), that received considerable critical acclaim. In comparison with American Beauty, the movie deals with the somewhat nightmarish and not so picture perfect side of suburban American life.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet star as the married Wheeler couple residing in Connecticut in the 1950s, that ends up trying to keep their marriage afloat despite starting out with a starry-eyed idealism of how they are different to the generic conformity they see around them. Mendes wished to draw out the claustrophobic aspect of the Wheeler’s abode so he conducted filming within the confines of a real house for months on end. The tensely wrought atmosphere of the house leaked into the actors’ performances, heightening the sense of claustrophobia.

In 2009 Mendes directed the heart-warming comedy Away We Go. With nothing in particular tying them to the place they live, a couple decide they should find where they belong before the birth of their child. They begin meandering through various cities in which they have personal connections, searching for the right home for their family. A film of a similar ilk to this touching comedy is Starter for Ten (starring James McAvoy), which Mendes had a hand in producing.

Sam Mendes has had a very successful career in independent filmmaking and is adding impressive blockbusters to boot. Considering the quality indie films that Neal Street Productions have already created, ÉCU will certainly be keeping an eye on what’s coming up next.

Gill Gillespie

 

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