Review: The Words


[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the Sundance Film Festival 2012. It has been reposted to coincide with the film’s national release.]

Some write for recognition; others write for money; few write for passion. Authorship is rarely an end in itself for the modern writer. The Words isn’t a film about process, but the fallout that comes from success and fame. The thing is New York writer Rory isn’t even deserving of this or anything less than a prison sentence. The great words he sells are not his own but those of an undiscovered, unpublished literary genius. There is no passion, only false recognition — a burden that soon becomes too heavy for him to bear.

The Words
Director: Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal
Rating: NR
Release Date: TBA

Getting through the creator’s wall never becomes easier with age. Actually, it’s much easier when you are young and have drive. This isn’t Rory’s (Bradley Cooper) problem. He has  drive, influence, and a novel to sell, and a pretty good one at that. Not good enough to get a publishing deal, however. So, he wastes away the day at dead-end jobs in New York with his encouraging girlfriend (played by a tender Zoe Saldana) by his side. When all seems hopeless, a fortunate event presents itself. Fortunate but also ethically complicated.

Aftering buying an antique attache case, Rory soon discovers a weathered yellow manuscript for a book. He can’t put it down and before he knows it, he copies every word, punctuation mark, and typo onto his computer. Once his wife reads it (beliving it is her husband’s words) and suggests he sells it, there is no turning back. The lie eventually becomes the truth and every door opens before Rory. He takes another man’s words, unaware he also took the author’s pain.

The Words is classical storytelling in it’s ambition and presentation. The way the story unfolds almost like a fairy-tale, driven foward by a tireless voice-over complemented by one of the most overpowering scores I’ve heard in years. The film sounds like the films characters sit and watch in other films — yes, these people are watching a film and you know it because it sounds like one, it sounds TOO much like one, in fact. Despite The Words‘ misguided earnestness, it’s a film about a very interesting dilemma that is dealt with in a caring, intimate manner.

Eventually, the past catches up to Rory and the original author approaches him. The old man doesn’t want the fame and recognition; he just wants Rory to know the story behind the book. This story within a story approach becomes more complicated when you consider Rory’s story is part of another man’s (Dennis Quaid) novel. Yes, this is some real Inception shit: a story within a story within a story. Yet, it never becomes difficult to follow. In fact, the film is a bit too simple and predictable by its end. It invests too much in its twists, when it would be better served exploring the nature of authorship between the young aspiring writer and the old man whose words were stolen.

The Words is at its best during the middle, when it ceases to be about the act of theft and addresses a more universal issue. Rory is part of a generation that live through facsimiles, while the old man was part of a generation that lived stories behind the stories they wrote. His words are the result of his successes, regrets, and pain. This promising avenue of discussion is ignored in the third act, which seems more interested in amping up relationship woes. The momentum and promise grinds to a halt.

As a film, The Words appears fake-plastic. It’s an aesthetic representing the pristine images behind the ongoing voiced narrative but it’s a very boring aesthetic. Even worse is the lifeless, sepia-toned visuals that accompany the old man’s story. The Words lives up to its title: It’s mostly about the script and the ideas behind it, but when it stumbles there is little else to cling to and enjoy. Getting through the wall can be hard, but sometimes building something on the other side can be even more difficult.