There's a promising premise somewhere in "The Words," though it's ultimately trumped by a murky, disjointed plot that somehow manages to be both confusing and easy to anticipate at the same time. Despite a good performance from Jeremy Irons, we're left with a tedious message about plagiarism and an unnecessarily topsy-turvy storyline that is difficult to engage with. Even if literary buffs might find some of the developments interesting, "The Words" is mainly a forgettable dalliance into the nature of talent and morality.
It all starts to unravel fairly quickly for "The Words." Successful writer Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) has an interesting story to tell in his new book - a tale about a writer consumed by the lie his career is built upon. In Hammond's book, set in the 1940s, Rory (Bradley Cooper) is bound and determined to be an author, though he lacks the talent to actually make it happen. Desperate and growing impatient, Rory stumbles upon a lost manuscript that just so happens to be a masterpiece, leading to an obvious moral dilemma. Does he publish the book himself? Seek out the true author? It isn't too hard to figure out where writer/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal are headed.
After Rory publishes the book under his own name, he soon finds the success he's been looking for and everything seems to be on the up-and-up. Even with a beautiful wife (Zoe Saldana) and the life he had imagined, Rory soon finds that success isn't everything that it's cracked up to be - particularly when it's completely unearned and you have to live like a fraud.
Also thrown into the mix is an enigmatic Old Man (Jeremy Irons). While a better movie might have hid the Old Man's intentions, "The Words" tips its hand very early on and even audience members with limited attention spans can figure out where the plot is aiming. Though movies certainly don't have to have twists and turns to be successful, "The Words" is so painfully obvious that we're left just waiting for the inevitable confrontation between Rory and the Old Man.
Of course, "The Words" does get a boost from having Jeremy Irons playing the Old Man, giving the movie its only saving grace. Irons provides an effortless performance as a man who has experienced life from an angle Rory is incapable of seeing at first. While the Old Man could have been embittered and envious, Irons gives him a soft human touch that elevates his character past the rigid, one-dimensional tone the rest of the movie has. The dialog between the Old Man and Rory may be obvious and riddled with hand-me-down morality lessons, but Irons at least helps us get past all that for at least a couple of moments here and there.
But even though there are a few moments between Cooper and Irons that suggest the movie could have been something more, the Dennis Quaid storyline brings the whole movie to a screeching halt. Quaid, who is not known for emotional depth or character diversity, has been in some good movies and can be a strong actor when a director has an interesting vision for him - something we saw in Todd Haynes' brilliant "Far From Heaven." Here, Quaid is back to a monotone performance that distracts from the rest of the movie. It doesn't help that his character is mostly irrelevant when compared with the core story.
Also wasted is Olivia Wilde, who is a casualty of a confused, faulty screenplay that doesn't actually need her to do much of anything. As Hammond's wife, Wilde is effective but also could have been played by just about any other actress that comes to mind. When you're actually hoping the camera moves away from Wilde, there's something dreadfully wrong.
Making movies about writers isn't easy, and "The Words" struggles from the very beginning to find a story worthy of engaging. Unlike "Atonement" and "Adaptation," two great movies about writers, "The Words" has nothing useful to say about the writing process nor the writers it's looking to bring to life. Lacking in much dramatic tension, believable scenarios or well-drawn characters, we're left wondering why we're supposed to care at all.
by RTT Staff Writer
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