“The Words” is a quirky, emotional little movie that is pretty much impossible to market. This explains why it landed in Hollywood’s early-September dumping ground.
I’m glad that movies like this are still getting made though, even if the odds of their raking in any box-office cash are small.
Employing the murky plot construction of a story within a story within a story, “The Words” is well acted, thoughtful and too clever by half.
This is a flawed film, but I can’t bring myself to knock it for its ambition. Hollywood hasn’t been earning many “A’s” for effort lately.
The movie begins with author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) giving a public reading of his latest novel. It is the story of Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) a young, struggling writer who can’t seem to catch a break.
He does, however, manage to land a smokin’ hot wife, Dora (Zoe Saldana), and the two scrape their pennies together for a honeymoon in Paris. It is there, in a quaint little shop that Dora purchases an old briefcase as a gift for Rory.
Inside the briefcase Rory discovers a weathered, beautifully-written manuscript. After some moral handwringing, Rory decides to submit the found novel as his own. And wouldn’t you know it, the book becomes a commercial and critical sensation.
Rory is on top of the world until the actual author of the novel comes calling. Known only as The Old Man and played illustriously by Jeremy Irons, he confronts Rory about his literary fraud and proceeds to tell his life story to his plagiarizer.
As a young GI (played in flashback by Ben Barnes) in Paris at the end of World War II, the man fell for a beautiful French girl (Nora Arnezeder). His sad tale of love and loss leads to his writing his manuscript, and then after it was lost, never writing again.
He then leaves Rory burdened with guilt and conflicted about how to right his wrongs.
Co-writers and directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, whose only previous credit was co-writing “Tron: Legacy,” have created a tidy morality play about failure, regret and personal conviction.
The only place “The Words” trips up is in the wrap-around story in which Quaid’s character has a flirtatious and clunky encounter with an unclearly motivated grad student (played by Olivia Wilde).
Perhaps the best thing “The Words” has going for it is they went out and cast the holy hell out of this thing. Even little throw-away roles were given to great character actors like J.K. Simmons and Zeljko Ivanek.
Quaid and Irons are terrific, not only for their acting, but for their voice-over chops as well. Quaid has a great voice for narration and I would pay to listen to Irons read the instruction manual for a weed eater.
The rest of the cast is solid, especially Barnes, whose eyes make him seem soulful beyond his years.
I found myself most fascinated by Cooper, who is a much better actor than his pretty-boy looks and broad comedy turns would lead you to believe. He’s great here and coupled with the way he carried last year’s modest hit “Limitless,” I think he’s proven that if given the right opportunity he could deliver an Oscar-caliber performance. Even if it’s not perfect, “The Words” is an engaging movie that is heartfelt and confidently made. Who knew plagiarism could be so compelling?
“The Words” is rated PG-13 for brief strong language and smoking.