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The Words

by Leonard Maltin
September 7, 2012 2:19 PM
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There’s a compelling idea at the core of The Words, especially as acted out by Bradley Cooper and the incomparable Jeremy Irons, but it’s nearly extinguished by the material that surrounds it, sorry to say. The premise is solid: a struggling writer chances upon a long-lost manuscript and publishes it as his own. Unfortunately, writer-directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal try to take this straightforward concept to “the next level” by wrapping it in a parallel story of a successful author (Dennis Quaid) who is challenged when he recounts this tale. The wraparound structure is not only unnecessary but downright confusing, leading the movie to an unsatisfying conclusion.

Cooper does a good job as the young man trying to establish himself as an author, with the love and support of his wife, Zoë Saldana. At a certain point he is forced to confront the fact that his manuscripts aren’t selling, and he takes an office job at a literary agency in order to get by. Then he discovers an aging typescript hidden away in a briefcase his wife purchased for him in Paris.

The true author of that moving story turns out to be an old man who confronts him down one day in Central Park. The wizened fellow shares his personal history with Cooper—and this is where the film comes to life. Irons, in exceptionally believable make-up, defies every cliché of how to play old age and comes close to redeeming The Words.

But the illogical events that ensue conspire to sink the film. (How does Cooper later track down the stranger without ever learning his name?) And the subplot involving Quaid and a persistent Olivia Wilde only add clutter to the narrative.

Given the high-profile stories of plagiarism and misrepresentation in real life over the past decade, it’s especially disappointing that The Words doesn’t realize its potential. Good ideas don’t come along all that often.

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  • RB | January 13, 2013 11:28 AMReply

    While not perfect, I found it totally engaging and all performances compelling. Sadly critics are being very harsh and admittedly this is far, far from what comes out of Hollywood these days. But I consider that a plus. While the structure isn't perfect, it is still well written, acted and directed, with no wasted screen time. I particularly enjoyed the unique brand of on screen chemistry among all the players here - it felt real without hitting you over the head with it, and in my opinion, this made up for a couple of plot holes.

  • James | September 16, 2012 2:21 PMReply

    I enjoyed the film. The pacing could have been less clunky, and the story more simple and streamlined. However, I did care about most of the characters. Unfortunately, Quaid's Hammond was kind of a "zero" character. Boring. But, I found most of The Words interesting, a page turner.

  • karen albert | September 10, 2012 11:45 AMReply

    I truly hated this movie. I thought it would never end. Cameras focusing in on endless vacant expressions. Jeremy Iron's ever-changing accent. Do whatever you can to miss it.

  • Jeffrey | September 7, 2012 2:36 PMReply

    Having watched the trailer a few times, I had the sense that this film had the wrong framework and also the wrong soundtrack. Too bad.

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