Movie Review: “The Words”
(NEW YORK) — Hard work pays off, or so we’re told. But for Bradley Cooper’s Rory Jansen, spending three years of his life writing a novel he’s sure is going to lead to success doesn’t pay off at all.
That’s one of the stories within a story, within a story, in The Words. Sound confusing? Not really — just perhaps not as interesting as it should be.
Jansen is the main character in a book titled The Words, written by world-renowned author Clay Hammond, who’s played by Dennis Quaid. We learn about Rory’s life as Hammond reads select passages from his book to an adoring audience in a rather large auditorium. There is, however, a member of the audience who seems to adore him more than everyone else: a grad student played by Olivia Wilde. Later, she’ll have her own significant part to play in Hammond’s narrative.
The film’s ambitious but not completely original narrative switches between three stories: Rory’s story; the story of the man whose life Rory plagiarized; and the real world — at least, what I think we’re supposed to believe is the real world — of Clay Hammond.
When Clay introduces us to his story’s protagonist, Rory is already a success. Then Clay tells the audience Rory’s backstory, including his romance with Dora, played by Zoe Saldana. The couple honeymoons in Paris, where Rory is quite taken with an old leather satchel they discover in a consignment shop, which Dora gifts to her new husband. Back in the States, when Rory fails to sell the novel over which he’s slaved for three years, he discovers in the satchel an old manuscript written so beautifully, it could’ve been the work of Ernest Hemingway himself.
Can you guess what happens next? Of course, Rory passes off the found manuscript as his own, gets an agent, becomes a best-selling author and apparently forgets about that moral line he obliterated when he decided to completely rip off, word for word, somebody else’s work.
That will change when an old man, played by Jeremy Irons, tracks down Rory in New York’s Central Park and tells him a story — his story — slowly, like peeling an onion layer by layer. It’s a painful story, one that’s at the heart of The Words, but Irons’s performance isn’t painful to watch. In fact, it’s one of the film’s bright spots. I just wish there were more.
The way in which the narrative for The Words is executed makes it nearly impossible to develop an emotional connection to either Clay or Rory and without that connection, every story within a story within this particular story has very little impact. It’s clear that co-writers/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal put lots of hard work into The Words. It just didn’t pay off.
Two-and-a-half out of five stars.
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