The Words started off as a promising tale of the moral ramifications of plagiarism, raising my hopes about the film. But unfortunately what unfolds is an anti-climactic drama with no real ending.
I probably would have enjoyed it much more if co-writers and directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal had produced just a story about plagiarism instead of a multi-layered film using a story-within-a-story approach.
The marketing materials mostly depict Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana as the stars, but there are actually three stories going on at the same time. First, there is author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) who is giving a reading of his new book, The Words. Sitting in the audience is Daniella (Olivia Wilde), a mysterious graduate student who weasels her way backstage during a break, and then to Clay’s apartment after the reading.
Then, there’s the subject of Hammond’s book, aspiring writer Rory Jensen (Cooper) and his wife, Dora (Saldana). While on their honeymoon in Paris, Dora buys Rory an old briefcase. Back home in Brooklyn, Rory finds a manuscript in the briefcase and is riveted by it. He starts typing it up, word for word, on his computer. Dora finds the manuscript on the computer and, thinking Rory wrote it, tells him he should submit it to someone at his job. (Rory is the mailroom supervisor at a publishing agency.)
The book, called The Window Tears, becomes a best seller and Rory is a literary star.
While sitting in Central Park one afternoon, Rory meets an old man who wants to tell him a story, thus setting up the movie’s third layer.
The Old Man (Jeremy Irons) tells a story of a young soldier (Ben Barnes) in Paris just after World War II. The soldier falls in love with a Parisian woman (Nora Arnezeder), marries her and has a child. When the baby suddenly passes away, the wife leaves town and the soldier pours his heart and soul into writing his life story. Unfortunately, he misplaces the manuscript and never writes again. So at this point, it is quite obvious The Old Man is the author of the manuscript that Rory has passed off as his own, and Rory has a big dilemma on his hands.
The Words marks the second dud in a row for Cooper, who also starred in Hit and Run. Though he delivers a solid performance, The Words fails from bad storytelling. It’s billed as a romantic drama, and while there are some romantic elements, I wouldn’t call that an accurate description. And it’s hard to care about the “main” characters, Rory and Dora, when their story is most likely made up (remember, Clay’s book is a work of fiction).
Wilde’s character seemed fairly pointless and expendable. The motives of her character, Daniella, were questionable and never really resolved. I couldn’t tell if she knew more about Clay than she was letting on or if she was truly just an overeager fan.
Quaid seems to have signed up only to read a few lines and collect an easy paycheck.
I didn’t have the highest expectations for The Words, given that it’s early September, and that’s when studios are likely to release their worst movies. It turns out my initial inclination was right. ••
Movie Grade: C