After a couple of demoralising rejections, young writer Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) finally achieves long sought literary success with his latest novel and enjoys the change from poverty to glittering awards, in the company of his beautiful and adoring wife Dora (Zoe Saldana). The fact that he didn't write it only becomes problematic when an old man (Jeremy Irons) in Central Park sits next to him on a bench and tells him the sad but true story behind the manuscript.
Review by Louise Keller:
The Words is a gripping film that plays mercilessly with the mind as it explores the precipice that divides the world of real life and fiction. Directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal have written a wonderful screenplay in which three stories are skilfully interwoven to deliver a rich and satisfying film that questions integrity above all else. A successful author, an old man and a university graduate are the key players in this intriguing story with themes about choices, truths and deceits and whose elements of drama, mystery and romance are played out in beguiling fashion. There are struggles, choices, highs and lows and the inevitable consequences.
The film's structure is interesting in that there is a story within a story and yet another story within. It is credit to the screenwriters that the transition from one to the other is seamless; we are never confused or unsure as to which story is which. The narrative begins in the present with the acclaim of lauded author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid, excellent), who is reading excerpts of his latest book The Words to a receptive audience.
We are then taken into the world of Hammond's fictional character, a struggling writer named Rory (Bradley Cooper at his best) who is eager to make his mark. His wife Dora (Zoe Saldana, lovely) believes in him even though Rory is infected by self-doubt. It is on their honeymoon when Dora buys Rory an old briefcase, that fate plays its hand. When Rory finds the anonymous manuscript hidden in the briefcase, he devours the words of the story, wishing that he had written them himself. It starts innocently enough - he wants his fingers to feel the impact of the words as he retypes them.... The essence of the story, set in war-time Paris resonates to such an extent, he accepts a deal with the devil - and claims it as his own work.
Just like Ralph Fiennes in Quiz Show (1994) who cheats his way to success, so too does Rory, as his novel The Window Tears is acclaimed. Cooper is physically reminiscent of Fiennes and ably conveys the journey of the ambitious writer whose love affair with words challenges his moral compass. But it is Jeremy Irons, impeccably cast as the old man, who steals the film, bring real pathos. Irons is devastatingly good and he imparts the pain and anger of a stranger taking ownership of an integral part of his life involving the people who matter most. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up in the scene when The Old Man approaches Rory in the park, sits on the bench beside him and as he feeds the birds, tells some home truths.
Then, with Iron's rich, distinctive voice as narrator, The Old Man's story is subsequently told in flashback: a young man (Ben Barnes) falls in love with beautiful French girl Celia (Nora Arnezeder) in 1940s Paris. Devoured by the pain of the events that transpire, the young man types the manuscript when he is at his most vulnerable: it represents the essence of who he is.
Klugman and Sternthal play with time frames most effectively and by the time we return to the present in which the aspiring writer grad student (Olivia Wilde) flirts outrageously with Hammond, it is clear that real life and fiction have become inexorably intertwined beyond redemption. Or has it? This is top drawer story telling for those who like their films to challenge the mind as well as the heart. My kind of film.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Cleverly written - as the title demands - The Words is a fable and a lesson, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable one, delivered with masterful performances and a great sense of storytelling tradition.
The cleverness comes from the filmmaking duo of Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal who wrote and directed, telescoping what appears to be three stories into the screenplay. The story that is being told by Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) is from a book he's written: The Words. He reads sections in public as he tours the promo circuit.
The Words tells the story of a young writer, Rory Jensen (Bradley Cooper), who struggles to get published - until he finds an old satchel in a Paris bric a brac shop - inside which in a hidden compartment is a manuscript. It's engaging and beautifully written, full of truths and pain and life's drama. He begins to copy type it - just to feel the words run through his fingers. But when his wife comes across it on his laptop, she insists he show it to a literary agent - one he is working for in a menial job.
And the rest is history - except it's history that comes back to bite Rory.
Told in time shifts, we follow the story of the young man who wrote the manuscript after a tragic time in his life, soon after the war.
We are moved from the past of the 1940s to the present, and from the life of the young writer to the young writer in Hammond's novel - and to Hammond's own life. It's a dazzling literary juggle that works beautifully.
Bradley Cooper is gripping as Rory and Dennis Quaid is riveting as Hammond, while Jeremy Irons is absolutely fascinating as the old man. The women are wonderful: Zoe Saldana as Celia, Rory's supportive but ultimately disillusioned wife, Nora Arnezeder as the sweet French girl Celia who falls for the young Rory (Ben Barnes, effective) and the striking Olivia Wilde as Daniella, the young aspiring writer who is hoping to rub shoulders (and more) with the famous writer Hammond.
All the supports deliver memorably: J. K. Simmons as the poverty stricken writer Rory's wallet-bearing dad, Zeljko Ivanek as Joseph Cutler, his agent who ends up with more than he expected, and Ron Rifkin as his publisher Timothy Epstein.
Of course, we never get to read (and so assess for ourselves) that wonderful manuscript, and that's a film's weakspot when it comes to literary drama. We have to take it on trust that it's a great novel - otherwise it wouldn't have caused such a stir. Besides, the film is not about writing novels, or even about authors or even about plagiarism in the publishing world (too big a subject, perhaps). It's a morality play about the price we sometimes pay for our actions - and not in the simplistic style of a cheap genre thriller.
The questions posed give us food for thought and the nuances of the moral complexity make the film juicy and satisfying.
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WORDS, THE (M)
CAST: Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Dennis Quaid, Jeremy Irons, Olivia Wilde, J. K. Simmons, Ben Barnes, Nora Arnezeder, Ron Rifkin, John Hannah
PRODUCER: Michael Benarova, Tatiana Kelly, Jim Young
DIRECTOR: Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal
SCRIPT: Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Antonio Calvache
EDITOR: Leslie Jones
MUSIC: Marcelo Zarvos
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Michele Laliberte
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Becker Film Group
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 11, 2012