The Words Review
by Laurie Coker
“It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma: but perhaps there is a key.” This quote, by Winston Churchill crept into my mind as the credits rolled for The Words, a film starring Jeremy Irons, Bradley Cooper, Zoë Saldana, Olivia Wilde and Dennis Quaid. “Precisely,” I thought, even if The Words does like clear insight. Writer/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal give us a story within a story, within a story and ask us to contemplate the possibilities. While some might see this effort as overzealous, I only agree to a degree, but I appreciated the journey, in spite of a few weak casting choices, the colossal challenge and an uninspiring finale.
With three stories (perhaps even more) and their characters treading though The Words, it is best, I think, to summarize simply and succinctly. The Words begins with a author (Quaid) sharing his novel, about a struggling author (Cooper), who finds a story penned by another (Irons) and a decision life-altering made by one of them. We experience these men’s lives, some far more interesting that others, through their words – written, stolen, or spoken. While the film focuses on the struggling writer, we are lead down his path through the eyes of another and along the way we meet the third.
Cooper and Irons please in every way in their roles, although Irons’ “old man” is afforded far less screen time. I won’t go as far as my friend and say Cooper’s performance is Oscar worthy, but both he and Irons deliver passionate performances. It is because of them, that I even stayed remotely invested. It is Quaid (and co-star Wilde, for that matter) who seems miscast and superfluous. Quaid looks completely out of his element here – floundering in the shoes of his character, never actually capturing any clear reason I should care at all for him. Never did I wholly understand his character’s reason for being in the film – other than to tell Rory Jansen’s (Cooper) story; Quaid’s is a subplot that seems misplaced and unnecessary. Wilde interacts within this author’s world, leaving only questions and no real answers, and worse, I never cared.
I can easily see – as will most others – where The Words should have or could have gone, but unfortunately its creators choose an alternate, far, far less impacting conclusion to their film, a problem having a great deal to do with the inelegance of the film’s meandering plot, but more to do with extremely unclear themes. I do believe they exist, these messages, Klugman and Sternthal can’t seem to decide what they want us to take away from their efforts, leaving us to decide for ourselves. While this is not necessarily a bad thing when done well, their script fails to deliver. I suppose key elements could lie on the editing room floor, but given the weighty involvement of its creators, I’d hate to think they allowed it.
As a writer (although, much to my mothers, may she rest in peace, chagrin, my first novel sits incomplete on my hard drive), perhaps, I want to appreciate what they try to say far more than I can actually admit they managed to express it. My students, over the years, never seem to grasp the magnitude of stealing the words of another (as opposed to say a car, money or jewels), but like John Proctor said in The Crucible, “It is my name!” – a man’s words (like his name) are his own and they define him – almost as clearly as his DNA, and Klugman and Sternthal miss an opportunity here in a big way, forcing me to place a C+ in my grade book and not better, for the PG-13 rated The Words.