The Words

“The Words” tells the story of a successful old writer telling the story of a struggling young writer who steals an old story from an old writer who eventually catches on and confronts him by telling his story.

As you can tell, there’s a lot of storytelling going on.

It’s not hard to keep track of, but it does create too many unnecessary layers to work through surrounding the primary story. It waters down the emotional weight, and creates unfortunate periods of time that the audience has to sit through, hoping to get back to what the movie should really be all about.

At a book reading, author Clayton Hammond (Dennis Quaid) reads excerpts of his latest novel. In it, a struggling young author (Bradley Cooper) who’s almost given up on his dreams of writing finds a typed manuscript in a attaché case he purchases while on his honeymoon in Paris. When he reads the book, he’s fascinated by it. On a whim, he decides to type it up. His new wife (Zoe Saladana) reads it on his computer, thinking its his, and fawns over him for writing something so brilliant. Thus, his decision to publish the book as his own is born. And it’s met with resounding acclaim and success. But when the real author of the novel (Jeremy Irons) discovers the deceit, there’s a reckoning to be had… beginning with him recounting the true tale of woe which inspired him to write it. Back in the “Real World”, Clayton Hammond has issues of his own. A sexually aggressive young fan (Olivia Wilde) is pushing him for details as to how auto-biographical the story really is.

“The Words” is very, very “wordy” for a movie. There are multiple levels of narration going on. Quaid, Cooper and Irons all take turns narrating portions of the film. In addition to all the talk, a lot of the talk is about writing. The struggle to come up with ideas, the feelings associated with the process, the impact of the finished work, etc etc… It gets to be more than a little tedious.

The primary issue with “The Words”, however, is that it’s trying to operate on too many levels of storytelling. The “old man” tells his story to the plagiarizing Rory Jansen (Cooper’s character), and in turn the whole story is being told Clayton Hammond. It’s one too many “levels”, which results in the whole thing feeling convoluted. The plagiarizing story at the core has some genuine emotional value to it. Jeremy Irons does a great job in his role as a man whose life has passed him by, and the post war story that he recounts about the original writing of the book is actually pretty good. The rest of that segment… the Bradley Cooper/Zoe Saldana romance, and Cooper’s under-explored “moment of reckoning” after meeting the man who he stole the story from, is not as good. But the movie really loses steam when it shifts to the Dennis Quaid/Olivia Wilde “level”. It’s simply nowhere near as compelling. It’s the very definition of “tacked on”.

It’s really a poor choice. The central drama is actually fairly compelling. If they had found a better way to extend that out to a feature-length film (an easy recommendation is to beef up the fall-out that Cooper’s character experiences… the “price” being paid section), there’s certain elements here which could have made for a good film, primarily the excellent performance turned in by Jeremy Irons as a wistful old man.


20 thoughts on “The Words

  1. Nice review Fogs. This movie didn’t do too much for me except provide some good performances from the cast and a message that everybody follows (hopefully). It’s basically saying that stealing somebody else’s work is bad, and you just shouldn’t do it. Really?!?!?!?

    • LOL. Yes, the message IS like, “Well, duh?” isnt it. But Irons was good. When he was on the park bench, doing his thing, it was intriguing.

      Too bad that they made us wade through all that other stuff to get to it…

      I’ll stop by your review shortly!

  2. Too bad, I found the premise quite interesting from the trailer but yea, it looks like the movie isn’t nearly as clever as the filmmakers think it is 😦 Bradley Cooper keeps making some perplexing career choices but I hear The Silver Lining Playbook is getting great reviews at TIFF

    • Huh. Thats not even on my radar yeat, Cap, so I’ll have to keep my eye out for it.

      Yeah, between this and “Hit and Run” he’s had a couple of misses for me, although netiher one would I pin on him.

      The premise here WAS intriguing. ANd when they were addressing it directly, the movie was definitely interesting. Unfortunately, as you put it, the filmmakers got a little too “clever” for their own good. 😀

  3. Nice review, I just got back from watching this movie myself. I agree with many of your thoughts. I really liked the concept of Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Irons’ characters, as well as the flashbacks to when Irons’ character was a young man. But I do think the Dennis Quaid/Olivia Wilde subplot was unnecessary.

    • There you go Ashley. I mean, to me, thats the gist of it right there. WAY too much Quaid/Wilde. There should have been none of that. None. Cause when it was Cooper/Irons, the film actually had some merit!

      Thanks for the backup! 😀

    • I dont know if I’d call it a TOTAL dud… cause I’m kind of a sucker for movies about wirters, too… so that section of it where Jeremy Irons is retelling his experiences and talking to Cooper… that was pretty good.

      Unfortunately it was wrapped up in a subpar shell 😦

    • LOL. True. I didnt even realize Dennis Quaid was in it. Or Olivia Wilde for that matter. When it opened with him I was slightly confused…

      Nice point. I’m sure they were like, let’s sell the GOOD aspects of this. 😀

  4. I am really bummed about this though. From the preview I thought, what a smart and unique concept. Finally, something different….. Now it sounds like the same thing you get when a high school kid writes a really insightful paper…..then hits the Thesaurus button, replacing the good stuff with so much flowery bullshit, you can’t even follow it. Oh well….

    • Ha! Well… I cant relate to the flowery bullshit of school kids, I wasn’t a thesaurus kind of guy.

      But they definitely outsmarted thmeselves here. And it is too bad. Because the concept is genuinely interesting… they just dont execute it well over the course of the whole movie. 😦 Could have been a lot better.

  5. Sorry this one didn’t turn out better. I feel like this is reminiscent of Murder of Crows which was a decent enough film and better story on printing another author and claiming it as your own work. Nice post. 😉

  6. Outside of Irons, this one’s a huge waste. It might be my least favorite movie of the year, though it has strong competition with The Bourne Legacy and Battleship.

    The AV Club describe in terms of Russian Nesting Dolls, which I think is perfect. It’s a story within a story within a story, which would be fine if those narratives interlocked in any satisfying way OR rode on even a slight wave of ambition. I’m actually aggravated by how easy it is to follow along with the threads; if The Words had been confusing, it might have at least meant that Klugman and Sternthal were trying for something big and brassy. (Alternately, it might have just meant that they suck at making movies. I mean, more than the film indicates as it is.)

    The real problem I have with The Words is that it doesn’t even attempt to resolve its arcs. They mostly just end.

    • Oh wow man. Russin Netsing Dolls are the PERFECT analogy. I think they had one too many of them though. 😦 The Quaid/Wilde Doll should have been left out!

      You’re right, too… they do basically “just end”. What happens to Cooper’s character? Nothing, basically? Obviously they’re implying he turns into Quaid… but… thans for the ambiguity, there “The Words”!

      I dont think it’ll make my worst list though. It had a segment or two that I enjoyed, and that’ll be enough to elevate it above the utterly irredeemable dreck.

    • It might. LOL… actually though. as much as it IS about books, writing, etc… its not based on a book! Isnt that strange? I had thought it would have been, too, myself. But nope!

      If you havent heard of it, I wouldnt worry. I think it’ll be quickly forgotten….

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