[Review] – The Words

24 Sep

Title: The Words
Year: 2012
Directors: Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal
Writers: Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Olivia Wilde, Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Irons, Ben Barnes, Dennis Quaid, Nora Arnezeder, J.K. Simmons
MPAA Rating: PG-13, brief strong language and smoking
Runtime: 97 min
IMDb Rating: 6.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 17%
Metacritic: 37

I remember watching the trailer for The Words about four months ago and just not really knowing what to make of it. On the one hand I thought the cast was pretty solid and the general premise could definitely lend itself for this intellectual kind of thriller, but on the other hand the trailer just tried to sell it as something totally different and had this wrong song choice at the end that didn’t mesh with the material. But then again, trailers have many times been false as to the film they advertised, so maybe this one was just meant to bump up the commercial prospects of the film and then once you went into it the actual end result would be a really great thing.

Unfortunately, even though I probably didn’t dislike this film as much as I’ve heard other people have, I’m afraid to say I had all the right reasons to be hesitant about how good it could turn out to be. The plot is basically this: you have Rory Jansen, played by Bradley Cooper, a struggling young writer who finally gets the level of success he had been after for such a long time after publishing a novel. The catch is, however, that the novel isn’t really his, but was rather a manuscript he found inside a briefcase from an antiques shop. He still publishes it, though, and gets a ton of fame and praise thrown his way but is then haunted by what he did once the actual author of the manuscript presents himself to him.

I honestly think this could have made for a super interesting film, but the problem is that the film itself evidently thought that, too. The Words just behaves every step of the way as thought it thinks it has the material of a super smart and interesting film. The film, both co-directed and co-written by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, has this sense of superiority throughout it, as though it thinks it’s going to be great just because of how complex it likes to make things. That’s just wrong though, because here stuff is made just too complex and not only does it absolutely take away and even stalls whatever dramatic developments are at play, but it also disables the talented cast from doing all that much.

The thing it does that makes it clear that the film thinks it’s super clever is the good ol’ story-within-a-story gimmick, with Dennis Quaid being an author reading from a book that’s actually the story of Mr. Cooper’s character. Not only is the whole thing done in the most typical of ways, including a twist-y ending that you won’t care about by the time it happens, but the only real thing The Words succeeded at with me was just really making me want to stop watching the movie and go back to reading the book I’m currently on (which is, by the way, Diane Keaton‘s memoir, ‘Then Again’; highly recommend it).

I was just utterly frustrated with this one. The premise just held so much promise, it was ambitious and, to be honest, for about the first half hour or so I thought it was working really well, it felt a little hokey at times but I thought it was hinting at some interesting stuff it was later then going to land into seamlessly. Yet by the end of the movie whatever illuminated revelations this film was apparently super satisfied with displaying fell horribly short. It’s the kind of film that talks a lot, trying to muster up great depths or something, but that not once really knows how to also walk the walk.

You have Dennis Quaid in one timeline in which you also have the lovely Olivia Wilde; you have Mr. Cooper on the other timeline, inside the book, with the lovely Zoe Saldana and the great Jeremy Irons; you have Ben Barnes in yet another timeline, in a flashback as the younger version of Mr. Irons’ character. It’s all too much, really. One of those realities should really have been eliminated, it would mean less big names, sure, but it would also mean a cleaner overall approach to all of this, a film that likes to sidestep ever so freely around what seem 90 years in just as many minutes.

Those big names, by the way, do a good job, which is why I’m not failing this movie out of my honest frustration towards it. Mr. Irons is by far the best thing about the movie, but not even he can really lift this out of mediocrity. Mr. Klugman and Mr. Sternthal, both first-time writers and directors (though they have a story credit in Tron: Legacy) I guess at least have to be applauded a bit for being so damn ambitious, for going for this astounding narrative scope to challenge Stephen Daldry‘s The Hours. It’s just that the end result doesn’t have the strength needed to back those pretensions up, it’s just too passive at the end. To make a film as imposing as The Hours you need to be a writer and director who’s been around the block a few times; it was honorable of these two to try it at their first at-bat, but it was also a bit ill-adviced.

I didn’t like The Words all that much, I think it’s a tad better than some people who have mutilated it have said it is, but I think it has a few things to be thankful for. At the very least the film, which premiered at Sundance this year, is one squarely aimed at grown-ups at time when not so many really are, it also has some good actors and, most of all, it has ambition. It lacked, however, the technical skills required to really see that ambition through, it fails at handling its intriguing premise all that ably, fumbling through its different narratives and just turning out to be a totally middling and exasperatingly patient film.

Grade: C

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