- Adam Carr
"The Words" not a Good Visual
"The Words," written and directed by both Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, is a story within a story within a story. On paper the premise is a clever one. A struggling writer, Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), finds a manuscript and passes it on to a publishing house as his own and it gets printed to great acclaim. Then an old man (Jeremy Irons) makes an appearance and informs Rory that the lost manuscript was his. What to do? The movie revolves around the moral obligation over whether one should profit from another’s work or reveal who the true author is while paying the ultimate price with their reputation and career.
The first story which takes place in the present is about an author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) reading from his newly published novel. His novel is about Rory finding the manuscript and getting it published. During a break in the reading Clay is approached by a graduate student, Daniella (Olivia Wilde), who begins to suspect that Clay is writing about his own beginnings as a writer. As Daniella questions Clay the story asks another question: how close does the fictional work of a writer reflect his experiences and reality? It is the same question and theme asked in Martin McDonagh’s play "The Pillowman," which is, why can’t a story come out of an author’s imagination and not have people believe that the writer lived his story? But the weight of "The Pillowman" was grounded in life and death. The stakes are not that high in "The Words." Clay’s story does generate some genuine mystery as to whether Rory’s story is actually about his early struggles as a writer.
The third story is told to us by the Old Man and it is what was written in the manuscript Rory claimed as his own. It tells of the early life of the Old Man just after World War II. He didn’t see any action in the army but fell in love with a French girl. They married and had a child. The child fell ill and died. They struggled to regain their passion. To escape the Young Man began to write his story. But at its completion the manuscript is misplaced by his wife which leads to accusations and then to a separation.
The film is an odd mix. Mr. Klugman and Mr. Sternthal are inconsistent throughout each story. The three stories all have a different feel and texture as though done by different directors. The story about the Old Man as a Young Man was filmed in a brown hue that sends us back to another era. Their filming of the young couple is exciting as we feel the glow that radiates from their love but also sink as they whither under the heat of tragedy. The couple (Ben Barnes and Nora Arnezeder) is filmed together in most scenes which gives their story an intimacy that draws in the viewer. There is minimal dialogue as the story is narrated by the Old Man but what the couple does say is important and worth listening to.
The second story of Rory and his girlfriend/wife Dora (Zoe Saldana) is laden down with heavy dialogue. It doesn’t help that when the couple confront each other over significant matters they have it out dozens of feet apart. They have a fight in the back alley of a restaurant, he’s against one wall explaining how he’s wasted his life and she’s at the opposite wall trying to understand him. Why so far apart? The scene loses intimacy and lacks the force to hold our attention. And why wouldn’t Dora confront her man up close to either explain why he walked out on their friends or to show understanding about his feelings or to convey her own feelings about what his life means to her? When Rory comes home drunk and tells Dora that he copied the manuscript both actors deliver their lines from opposite sides of the apartment. Mr. Klugman and Mr. Sternthal don’t take the reins off Mr. Cooper and Ms. Saldana and that’s a shame because they have wonderful chemistry together. A lot of the scenes the directors set up feel staged. A simple walk in the streets of Paris doesn’t feel genuine. Are unicyclists juggling bowling pins that prevalent on the streets of Paris?
The diamond in the rough in "The Words" is Jeremy Irons. When he makes his appearance and begins to sketch his yarn it feels like eating chocolate soufflé after a dinner of spinach and raw broccoli. He is a joy to watch and transmits more feeling just recanting his story on a bench then the whole production of the second story. The first story with Mr. Quaid works because it is lean and gets right to the point. It twists and turns and adds a bit of mystery about whether all of the stories are actually true or not. Another treat for literary buffs is the relevancy of Hemingway’s "The Sun Also Rises." It turns out to be influential in making the Old Man interested in writing. It did the same thing for this writer. The book played a part in Rory’s life as well since the only site we see him and Dora visit in Paris is Hemingway’s home when he lived there.