It’s about time Sam Mendes lightens up.  Once an inventive, versatile stage director of everything from large-scale musicals to intimate romantic comedies, Mendes is now a filmmaker of safe, Oscar-courting dramas of no consequence.  In a way, I’d feel better if he’d gone the Nicholas Hytner route and squandered his gifts on compulsively watchable Fame retreads; then, I’d at least have something to watch fifteen to twenty times on cable.  And maybe own on DVD.  But we’ll not divulge that.  Return to us, Amanda Schull!

If you’re in the habit of remembering everything I’ve ever written, you’re probably tired of me talking about Mendes’s brilliant production of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing (starring Jennifer Ehle and Stephen Dillane!).  But anyone capable of finding the heart in Stoppard is a talent to be reckoned with.  Oh, and his 1998 revival of Cabaret?  Not half-bad.  When Mendes segued to film, I expected nuance; instead, I got a) a phenomenal director of actors, b) a guy who knew well enough to work with the best craftsmen alive (i.e. the late Conrad Hall, Roger Deakins and Walter Murch*), and c) a cipher. I don’t know why Mendes has chosen to stifle his voice; when I watch his films, I see the combined efforts of great artists equaling less than zero.

It takes a great talent to reduce guys like Hall, Deakins and Murch to high-end cogs, but that’s all they are in Mendes’s gorgeously assembled vacuums.  Maybe he found his way with Revolutionary Road (shot last year for release at the end of ’08); failing that, I’d like to think that a screenplay by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida might tap into that humanity that’s been woefully lacking in his previous film work.  Eggers’s and Vida’s script (they’re married, doncha know?) concerns an expectant couple’s peregrinations about the United States as they seek an ideal locale to raise their unborn child.  If they settle on Seattle, I’m so gonna hate this movie.

Mendes will begin shooting this untitled film – they’ve wisely jettisoned the Talking Heads-inspired This Must Be the Place – in March.  There’s no word on casting just yet, but you can safely count out Mendes’s wife, Kate Winslet, who’ll likely still be shooting Stephen Daldry’s The Reader

Here’s to rediscovering purpose, Sam!

*I hope you’ve read this.