Friday, September 7, 2012

The Words (2012) - Movie Review

We begin with the reading of a book, The Words, by successful author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid).  The book is the story of another author, Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), who lives in New York with his girlfriend, Dora (Zoe Saldana).  Rory is an author struggling to get published, and is forced to get a day job when his father (J.K. Simmons) says he can't support him anymore and hints that maybe it's time to move on.

While on their honeymoon, the couple finds an old leather bag that contains an old manuscript. Rory reads it and realizes that it's better than anything he's ever written.  He types it, word for word, into his computer just for the experience of having the book go through his hands.  Dora finds the re-typed manuscript and is moved by it.  She encourages him to get it published, and Rory can't bring himself to tell her that he didn't write it.

The book is a hit and things are looking up for Rory, but things get complicated when the book's original author, simply billed as "The Old Man" (Jeremy Irons), tracks Rory down and tells him his story.  We are transported to World War II France and get a mini period piece detailing how The Old Man wrote and then lost his book.  I felt this was the strength of the movie, simply for Jeremy Irons performance.  He just provided narration, but he's so good in that 'I could listen to him read the phone book' way.  It's worth watching The Words just for Jeremy Irons.

Most of the performances in The Words are strong.  I thought Bradley Cooper was great.  To think a few years ago I thought he was going to be a flash in the pan.  Cooper shows emotional depth that I don't think we've seen out of him up until now.  Zoe Saldana was good as well, but she wasn't given much to do and the story wasn't about her.  I also really enjoyed Ben Barnes and Nora Arnezender as the young couple from The Old Man's story.  He doesn't get enough screen time, but it's always great to see J.K. Simmons in anything.

You'd think that things would get really interesting once the two authors meet, but the problem is that The Old Man doesn't want anything from Rory.  As a result, the movie fizzles out and you never really get to see how this affects Rory.  There are some consequences, but Rory is never publicly outed and they don't spend very much time at all showing Rory deal with the guilt of what's he's done.

What should have been the emotional climax of the film ended up switching back to catch up with Clay, who's flirting with an apparent literary groupie played by Olivia Wilde.  She's very interested in the story, so you think there might be something deeper to her character, but there isn't.  I like Olivia Wilde, but once again she plays a role that felt thrown in just to have another pretty face in the movie.  I'm sure the script appealed to her, as her surname was taken from author Oscar Wilde.  There was some very odd and awkward interaction between Quaid and Wilde as he uncomfortably tried to flirt with her.  Have you ever had a friend that didn't quite know how to talk to women and tries way too hard, so it comes off as a little creepy?  It was like that.

With all this story within a story within a story, I felt like I was watching a literary version of Inception.  It's never truly clear if Clay is actually Rory or just telling a story.  They leave that up to you to decide, but it kind of felt like the movie was trying really hard to be clever.  The movie ends very abruptly and you're left wondering what the point was.  I'd like to ask co-writers and directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal what they were really trying to say here.

I'd love to write more about this movie, but I can't find...The Words.  Ha ha ha!  Do you see what I did with that totally hilarious joke that I in no way had any assistance with?

The Words is a very well acted and good looking film, but the story is overly complex and ultimately something that won't stick with you.  I do think it's worth watching for the performances, especially Jeremy Irons, but this is better suited for a rental.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars


  1. Bradley is fine in the lead, but it’s Irons who steals this movie as soon as he has his 15 minutes of fame by the end. He’s easily the best thing about this movie and they sort of treat him like an old-joke. Nice review Erik.

    1. Irons was fantastic. I wish the movie would have been all about his character, or maybe dropping the plagiarism angle and had Irons tell his story to Cooper and then Cooper writing the story on his behalf.