By Gary “The Utterances” Murray


Starring Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde and Zoe Saldana


Written and directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal


Running time 96 min


MPAA Rating PG-13


Selig Film Rating Matinee


Stories about writers have been around since there have been writers.  For some reason, the people who pen words seem to think that their lives are interesting and worthy of being expounded in fiction.  Some are wonderful and some are dreadful and almost all seem a bit too self-reflective.  The latest to take this on is The Words.    

The Words is a story about words.  The tale is of Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) a writer who is reading his latest work The Words.   The majority of the story is him telling the crafted tale to an audience of literary fans and by proxy, the audience.  There is a grad student Danielle (Olivia Wilde) who joins the audience at the reading.

The story he tells is of Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) a young man struggling to get the words on the page.   He moves to NYC with his girlfriend Dora (Zoe Saldana) in order to become an author.  Even though his father (J.K. Simmons) questions his ability, Dad still supports his son. 

As life moves forward, Rory finally finishes his novel and the publishing world is not set on fire.  Rory is now married and working at a publishing company, still keeping his nose to the proverbial grindstone.  He believes that he has the talent to break through. 

While on their honeymoon in Paris, Dora found an old briefcase in an antique shop.  She purchased it for Rory.  One day, Rory is putting papers in this bag and discovers a fiction manuscript in the inner folds of the leather-bound case.  He sits down and reads the document.  It is perfect–everything he has struggled to relate that is the human condition.  Rory knows that this is a masterpiece and something he cannot accomplish. 

Just to know what it feels like to write something this flowing, Rory types the manuscript into his computer.  The next morning, Dora finds the work on the computer and assumes that Rory wrote it.  Dora thinks it is brilliant, touching her to her soul.  She pushed him to take it to the head of the publishing firm.  Thus begins the cascade of lies. 

The book sells and Rory becomes the new darling of the literary circuit, with adoring fans and literary prizes.  One day at the park, he talks to an old man (Jeremy Irons) and in cat-like fashion the old man slowly lets our writer know that they both know the truth.  The old man is the writer of the work.

The next half of the film is the old man telling his story of how he came to craft the work, all the pain and emotions of living the life spilled on the withered page.   It is of his heartbreak of losing the love of his life in the days after the Liberation of France in the twilight of WWII.  It is the meat of the tale and the most interesting aspect of the film.  As the old man weaves his story, Rory sees how a master storyteller reveals greater truths through fiction.

Even though the film is being marketed as a mystery, it is more of a character study.  The film is built not in a straight ahead narrative form, but more of a chapter book that goes back and forth in time and space.  It is a tale of what men do when confronted with true greatness and of how real life pain can create grand art.

Of all the performers in this piece, Zoe Saldana truly stands out above her co-stars.   She brings real human emotions to her supporting character, a difficult task to say the least.  Her tears feel authentic, her emotions true, much truer than her male actors.  We are touched when she is touched.  This is a small role that she turns into a major twist.

Jeremy Irons goes from fascinating to irritating sometimes within the same scene.  This is a role that calls for great subtlety, a task he fails to have mastered.  At times he roars while at other points he whimpers but he never seems to be in a consistent meter within the framework of the entire exercise.  At times it feels like he is from another movie, spliced into this one.

Bradley Cooper is just there, not making much of an impression either way.  The problem seems to be that he just doesn’t know how to play the character.  Is he a saint or a sinner–a hero or a villain?  The fact is that Rory doesn’t know who he is and Bradley Cooper reflects that indecision.

The part of the film that didn’t work at all was the bookend idea of the writer telling our tale.  The entire Dennis Quaid and Olivia Wilde dynamic came off as hollow and forced.  As the grad student and the author discuss the merits of fiction, one gets the feeling that it was supposed to be some intellectual foreplay, a literary tête-à-tête if you will.  What might have worked on paper does not work in execution.

We live in a world where ‘reality’ shows are scripted and fictional accounts are sold as non-fiction.  The idea of using someone else’s work does not seem that far fetched.  It is a sad statement that nothing we see, read, hear or experience can be counted on as real and authentic.  The lines are past the point of being blurred.  What was once clear is now nothing but shards of broken glass on the kitchen floor. 

Writer/.directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal seem to want to make some grand statement on both art and honesty but the final analysis never makes that point.  The more one thinks about the movie, the more it becomes a false forecaster or literary truths. 

The Words is one of those ‘must see films of the fall’ that are vaulted as Oscar contenders in September and forgotten by ballot time.  It is an interesting movie with some winning performances but it is nothing memorable.     



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