The Words is a movie that gets by on its idea alone. It comes from Lee Sternthal and Brian Klugman, first time writers/directors, and therefore is a little rough around the edges—even its talented cast comes off like first time actors who have finally caught their big break and are unconvincingly trying way too hard, a problem which hearkens back to the amateur directors—but where it lacks polish, it more than makes up for with an engaging story and an interesting, if somewhat obvious, twist. A movie that seemed so simple at first suddenly becomes surprisingly poignant. It’s an Inception like narrative that is weaved together in a way that creates a character parallel that is difficult to explain, but is immediately apparent when watching. It may be a stylistically rough movie, but thematically, it’s quite beautiful.
The movie stars Dennis Quaid as Clay Hammond, an author who is reading his latest book to a crowd of fans who have gathered around to hear him. As he reads, we’re pulled into his story and meet his character, Rory (Bradley Cooper), an author himself who is struggling to get his first book published. He’s put three years of work into his novel and despite his admittedly excellent writing, he is turned down by every publisher he submits his book to. One day, while on vacation in London, he finds a worn down valise that contains a manuscript that is among one of the best he’s ever read. He begins to type it into his computer, not with intent to plagiarize, but, as Clay the narrator says, to feel the words flow through his fingers. However, his wife, Dora (Zoe Saldana), soon stumbles upon what he typed up and begs him to shop it around, not knowing every word of it is stolen. In order to not disappoint his wife, he does just that and the book is immediately bought. It quickly becomes a hit and Rory finds himself among the top authors in the world. A few years later, an old unnamed man played by Jeremy Irons appears and begins to tell his own story (which we also see onscreen) about a man who wrote a story back near the end of World War II, but then lost it. Rory quickly realizes that the old man is referring to the story he stole.
The Words, a story about an author reading a story about a struggling author stealing a story that another author wrote many years ago, may sound confusing, but it isn’t. It somehow manages to balance the accessibility of the narrative with complex themes and meanings. It never dumbs itself down for fear of isolating some audience members (aside from a few tiny narrations from Quaid as he reads from his book) and if nothing else, it should be commended for it. It doesn’t always succeed in what it sets out to do, but The Words is unique, taking a basic foundation made popular by 2010’s Inception and tweaking it to fit within the context of a dramatic story.
Nearly every aspect of the movie, from its performances to its looks to everything in between, is a give and take. For every one thing I would fix, there’s something else I wouldn’t touch. Some scenes work wonderfully while others fall flat on their face. The best example of the latter comes when Dora tells Clay that reading his novel was more honest, true and passionate than anything else he’d ever written. She tells him that the book contained all of him, even the parts she didn’t know existed. Of course, the book wasn’t written by him, so while she thinks she’s giving him a compliment, she’s really crushing him on the inside. The scene is a catalyst for all the events to come, but it’s more amusing than it is dramatic and more worthy of laughs than it is tears.
As far as visuals go, The Words is, like everything else, a mixed bag. For example, there is some awkward framing prevalent throughout the entire movie—sometimes it’s too uncomfortable to see these actors that close up, especially given their by-the-numbers performances—but once again, it’s strengths outweigh its flaws. Interestingly, the directors opt to shoot their movie using both the digital and film formats, the former for the current time settings and the latter for the World War II setting. This gives the movie some much needed style that is missing elsewhere and it creates a distinct feeling for each time period, keeping them separated before their thematic relation is finally revealed.
It’s a nice touch in an otherwise bland looking movie. In fact, the whole thing could essentially be summarized like that. The remnants of a bad movie are there, but there is enough thought and care put behind its creation that it comes out as much more. While I hesitate to hype it up more than it’s worth, The Words is nevertheless a surprising, underrated gem that is definitely worth a look this weekend.
The Words receives 3.5/5