Sam Mendes has built a solid, respectable, acclaimed career out of making films that I don't much like.
"American Beauty" may have suffered a profound backlash after winning the Oscar for Best Picture, but I still think there's a lot to like about it. Sure, the third act is built on a lame "Three's Company" coincidence, and it doesn't really break any new ground in the "suburban life can be weird" genre, but it's got energy and style and some great performances. "Road To Perdition" is a mild pleasure for me, but I'm not sure I could even explain what it is that doesn't quite gel about it for me. "Jarhead" is one of those movies that I could feel myself forgetting even as I watched it, and I don't think I've thought about it since it ended. I doubt I could even describe anything in it for you. Pure Teflon filmmaking.
Then there was last year's "Revolutionary Road." I wrote a fairly short, gentle review for the movie when it was released, but the more I've thought about it, the less I like it. It is a remarkable amount of film craft to through at a shallow, rancid piece of writing that misses every subtle detail of the novel, reducing it to little more than a shrill screed about how lousy marriage and the suburbs can be. Yawn.
Each of those films has fans, and I can understand why someone might like any one of those films more than I do. I certainly don't think Mendes is a bad filmmaker. I just think he makes very stylized, very theatrical films that hinge on pretty big choices, and like a lot of theater, your reaction to those choices is going to determine whether or not the film works for you. His stage background is all over his choices as a filmmaker, the way he approaches each project. Think of how completely he changes his style from film to film. That's his signature so far... a different broad reality each time out.
And I can imagine after bathing in the poison of "Revolutionary Road" for the year or more he put into it, Mendes was probably ready for an about-face in tone. That would certainly help explain the origin of the gentle, sweet, wistful look at a couple on the verge of parenthood looking for a place to call home. It's by far the slightest movie Mendes has made so far, and I think it's the first of his movies that I sort of love completely.
[more after the jump]