The ‘Skyfall’ and ‘Spectre’ director will re-team with Steven Spielberg for a World War I drama.
Sam Mendes is trading the escapades of espionage for a historical war setting for his next directorial effort, finally returning to big screen filmmaking for the first time in three years. Deadline has the scoop that Mendes will be tackling 1917 as his next project, a feature which will be set during World War I.
So far, part of the film’s appeal definitely lies in its intriguing lack of details. There is no public logline for 1917 available at this point, and Deadline even reports that the plot is deliberately being “kept close to the vest.” In spite of this, 1917 is still worth taking note of. Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners won a battle for the film against competitors like Paramount, Sony, and New Regency, marking the reunion of the veteran filmmaker and Mendes for the first time in 10 years. Amblin will finance and distribute the movie that Spielberg himself touts as “hugely daring and ambitious.” According to The Hollywood Reporter, the expected budget for 1917 sits around the $100 million mark, so Mendes is definitely returning to cinema in a huge way.
Furthermore, 1917 will mark Mendes’s first screenwriting credit throughout his illustrious 20-year-old filmmaking career. He penned the film’s screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, who served as a writer on Showtime’s Penny Dreadful (which Mendes executive produced through his Neal Street Productions banner). The duo has taken their time prepping 1917, working on the screenplay for the past year. In Mendes’s own words, it is now “very exciting to start making the movie itself a reality.”
Taking a look at Mendes’s rather small filmography — he has only directed seven films since his acclaimed feature debut, American Beauty — the words “daring” and “ambitious” are perfect ways to describe his oeuvre. Mendes began his career in theater, spending the late 1980s and all of the 1990s as an acclaimed stage director. He was appointed the artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse in London in 1990, which he helped transform into a buzzworthy performance venue. Throughout these early years, Mendes not only worked with name actors like Judi Dench and Simon Russell Beale, he also shepherded a series of iconic revival productions including Stephen Sondheim’s Company, Oliver!, and Cabaret.
The latter two musicals, in particular, brought Mendes to the attention of American Beauty producers Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks, as well as Spielberg himself, who was co-running DreamWorks Pictures at the time and had the rights to Alan Ball’s script for the film. Spielberg personally approached Mendes with the screenplay, and the rest is evidently history. Mendes took Ball’s sprawling, bizarre script and created a memorably displaced commentary about the American dream. American Beauty went on to win a plethora of trophies the following awards season, despite being considered an underdog in the race. It notably took home Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture.
After developing a flair for the stylized in American Beauty, Mendes proved an ability to create more naturalistic and equally effective movies with the comic-book-adapted crime film Road to Perdition. His first period movie showcased his knack for depicting the characteristic mood and depth of a gangster film without resorting to clichés of the genre. Instead, with little dialogue and emotive, implicit cinematography, Mendes brought a focused narrative about violence and father-son relationships to the forefront. In many ways, Road to Perdition is vastly different to the narratively and thematically deflective American Beauty, and with just two features under his belt at that point, Mendes became one to watch.
Mendes then continued to carry a reverence of form into his follow-up films where necessary, eventually cultivating a long-running partnership with cinematographer extraordinaire Roger Deakins. In terms of the plots of his movies, Mendes also constantly found fresh angles within every story he told, regardless of whether they originate from relatively predictable premises.
His sole war film to date, Jarhead, is far more focused on the lives of soldiers in training as they await the throes of battle, as opposed to tilting the spotlight towards war itself. Mendes took two of the most adored actors who’ve ever played onscreen lovers — Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio — and made them utterly insufferable in a pointedly frustrating Revolutionary Road. A year after, he took a sharp turn away from stylistics as a whole, downsizing to make the unexpectedly adorable John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph romantic comedy Away We Go.
Mendes’s subsequent work on the latest films in the James Bond franchise, Skyfall and Spectre, has since overshadowed much of his filmography from the 2000s as it truly brought the director to the mainstream. Mendes undeniably rejuvenated interest in the entire enterprise of a Bond movie with Skyfall. The visuals, sound, and casting of the film meld into a sumptuous feast that one would expect from the best of spy cinema. The film came just in time for the series’ 50th anniversary, and audiences turned up in droves. Skyfall made $1.109 billion worldwide and was the second-highest-grossing film of 2012.
Sadly, Spectre only rehashes similar stylistic techniques to tell an emptier story. Long runtimes are kind of a staple when it comes to Bond films, but Spectre practically signaled a fatigue for its own tenuously thin storyline; beautiful to look at, but boring to ingest. Still, the film made a financial impact, grossing $880.7 million worldwide and becoming the sixth-highest-grossing film of 2015.
In light of Mendes’s achievements and even his failures, what can we expect from 1917? There seems to be a pattern to his successes so far. He makes some of his most striking work after a grace period away from the big screen. We’re given a good amount of time to miss his audacious approach to well-loved genre cinema whenever he indulges in his passion for the theater, which he has been doing of late with his Olivier Award-winning rendition of The Ferryman.
And of course, Spielberg’s word definitely also counts for something. If he believes in Mendes and 1917, perhaps we can too.