STARRING Bradley Cooper, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde, Zoe Saldana, J.K. Simmons, Jeremy Irons WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal MPAA RATING Rated PG-13 RUNNING TIME 96 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY CBS Films DVD EXTRAS extended special edition with an alternate ending, behind-the-scenes featurette and "A Gentleman's Agreement" production featurette. Also, on Blu-ray: "Clay and Daniella" and "The Young Man and Celia" character featurettes.
"The Words" Needed Better Words
There's an essential ingredient for a film like The Words to work. That ingredient is caring.
You have to care about the central character in a film like The Words, and despite a decent enough performance by Bradley Cooper in the central role the simple truth is I never cared about him nor did I particularly care for him. Without that essential ingredient of caring, The Words is simply a run-of-the-mill drama about a run-of-the-mill writer who makes a predictable choice with fairly predictable results.
In other words, there's no real reason to see The Words unless you find yourself absolutely needing to gawk at Bradley Cooper or Zoe Saldana or Olivia Wilde or Ben Barnes.
Cooper is Rory Jansen, a young and mostly wannabe writer whose literary life is mostly filled with eloquent rejection letters and unfulfilled promise. When he stumbles upon a manuscript in a weathered briefcase, Jansen is forced to choose between ethics and potentially finally achieving some degree of literary success.
Guess which one he chooses?
The Words is one of those films where you can tell right from the movie trailer if it's a film you'll care to see, because the film's plot points are covered quite adequately within the confines of its fairly brief trailer and you get a definite flavor for the film's characters. There's little to no surprises to be found within The Words, an artsy little film without the art.
Cooper is given little to do here beyond a mostly unsuccessful stab at exuding the moral conflict supposed to be felt by Jansen, a moral complexity that mostly gives way to paint-by-number moodiness in Cooper's Jansen along with Zoe Saldana as his wife and Jeremy Irons as The Old Man, also known as the actual guy who wrote the aforementioned manuscript. It's abundantly clear that co-writers and directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal are aiming for something with dramatic resonance here. Unfortunately, they fall woefully short.
I mean, seriously. How weird is it that a film about a morally conflicted writer is, in fact, rather poorly written?
There's a secondary story here involving Dennis Quaid as successful writer Clayton Hammond, though this secondary thread is even more abysmally written than the film's primary thread and only adds to the sense of dramatic pretense that nearly suffocates The Words. If not for some decent performances, The Words would be a complete waste of time. However, Jeremy Irons proves once again that he can elevate nearly any film in which he works and, in a supporting role that deserves to be much more, character actor J.K. Simmons does the exact same thing.
But, unfortunately, The Words really isn't about The Old Man nor is it about Simmons as Jansen's father. The film isn't really about writers either, though I'm not convinced that would have improved it at all. Instead, the film is about characters you are unlikely to care about living out a multi-layered story you're unlikely to care about in a film that is fairly well destined to die a rather quick box-office death before becoming a bit of a cinematic curiosity once it hits home video.
Antonio Calvache's camera work gives the film a sense of drama even when betrayed by the overwrought dialogue, while Michele Laliberte's production design does a nice job of portraying the film's changing decades, a constant shifting that really serves no purpose other than making the film seem even more uneven than it already is.