Review: The Words

Directed by: Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal
Written by:Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde, Zoe Saldana, Ben Barnes
Released: October 11, 2012
Grade: B-

The Words
The film opens with highly acclaimed author Clay Hammond (Quaid) standing on stage in front of a packed lecture theatre.  He starts to read from the pages of his new novel… and as he does so, we are transported into his world of fiction.

His central character is a struggling writer named Rory Jansen (Cooper).  For the past few years, Rory has been following his dream and trying to break into the literary world.  By day, he wanders the streets of New York City for inspiration and spends time with his girlfriend, Dora (Saldana).  By night, he sits in front of his laptop and hopes the words will flow.

Sadly, Rory cannot find the success he years for.  He has sent copies of his first book to numerous publishers who have all come back with letters of rejection.  They sense that he has talent but there’s no way that they’re going to take a risk on the “artistic” novel of a first-time writer.  The publishers need something that will be a guaranteed sell.

Time passes and Rory and Dora eventually marry.  While honeymooning in Paris, Dora buys Rory an old briefcase that she discovers in an antique store.  It’s not until they’re home in New York that Rory discovers a manuscript that has been hidden in one of the briefcase’s pockets.  He reads it… and is completely blown away.  It leaves him the realisation that he’ll never be a brilliant writer.  He could never write anything this good.

It’s at this point that Rory makes a decision that will change his life forever.  He decides to pass the story off as his own.  Word-for-word, he retypes every sentence on his computer and takes to a publisher for his their thoughts.  Lo and behold, the novel is put into print and becomes an award winning, best seller.

You might imagine that Rory is burned with guilt but that doesn’t appear to be the case.  He knows what he did was wrong but he believes that “the means justifies the end”.  Now that he is a well-know author, he can move forward with his literary career and publish his own works.  No one, including his wife, will ever need to know the truth.

Of course, there’s someone who knows – the original author of the manuscript.  He takes a while to come forward but an old man (Irons) approaches Rory in a park and reveals his identity.  He tells the tale about how he wrote the novel just after World War II and how his French wife had accidentally lost his briefcase on a train.

The Words is a curious film in that it’s a story within a story within a story.  It’s about a writer who has written a book about a writer who has stolen a book.  Writer-directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal first came up with the idea for the movie more than a decade ago but it took a long time to get off the ground.  It took the casting of their good friend Bradley Cooper (Limitless, The Hangover) for financiers to take their script seriously.

It’s a film that asks questions of the audience.  Now that Rory’s secret has been revealed, what should he do?  Should Rory pay the old man to keep quiet?  Should he confide in his wife and seek her advice?  Should he come out publicly and admit his fraud?  You’ll have to see The Words to find out which paths are chosen.

Jeremy Irons delivers the film’s strongest performance as the old man who chooses his own “words” very carefully.  You’re never quite sure about his character’s intentions.  Cooper is also solid and it’s nice to see him outside of the comedic genre.

I’m not as complimentary about the screenplay however.  The overarching layer involving Dennis Quaid (as the story’s author) and Olivia Wilde (a wannabe author who is trying to seduce him) isn’t given much chance to breathe.  It’s a forced, unnecessary subplot that also distracts us from the more interesting storyline involving Cooper and Irons.

I like the idea but The Words is a little too preachy, too melodramatic for my liking.