‘The Words’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated September 26th, 2014 at 4:07 am,

Bradley Cooper Zoe Saldana The Words The Words Review

Frequently described as “that movie where Bradley Cooper plagiarizes,” The Words is much more complicated than its core premise – as evidenced by the difficulty of marketing the film to potential viewers. The movie’s trailers present an odd mix of romance and thriller genres but the film is actually more of a contemplative character drama.

First time feature writer/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal were responsible for the project from page to screen and the pair deliver a lot of interesting ideas, especially for moviegoers who love literary culture/genuinely enjoy reading and writing. However, with a big-name cast that includes Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Dennis Quaid, and Olivia Wilde, there are sure to be plenty of filmgoers who are drawn in by familiar faces only to be presented with a story that might rely too heavily on symbolism to be completely satisfying.

That isn’t to say that Klugman and Sternthal are new to big screen filmmaking – as writers they contributed to the TRON: Legacy story and Klugman has acted in numerous high-profile projects (Cloverfield, Mad Men, Castle). However, in ferrying their own creation from start to finish, the pair stumble over a very fine line between delivering one of the year’s more profound messages about life (as well as fiction) and downright drowning viewers in a mishmash of on-the-nose revelations and overly-subtle attempts at abstraction. It’s a worthy effort, especially for freshman filmmakers, but in its attempt to say something profound about the connection between real life and fiction as well as the ongoing pursuit of “truth” in literature, The Words, without question, will prove a bit too abstract for viewers who were expecting a more traditional action/reaction storyline.

Nora Arnezeder Ben Barnes The Words The Words Review

Nora Arnezeder and Ben Barnes in ‘The Words’

Instead of the simple “Bradley Cooper plagiarizes” plot, The Words is actually a multilayered narrative that starts with bestselling author, Clay Hammond (Quaid) reading from his latest book “The Words” – about a struggling (but talented) young author, Rory Jansen (Cooper), who by chance discovers a remarkable piece of writing and chooses to pass the work off as his own. Now darling of the literary scene, Rory is thrust into the public spotlight – with no choice but to perpetuate his lie. Fame and commercial success make it easier for him to live his literary dream (and get his own stories published) but he’s kept awake at night by the fact that he’ll never be as talented as the writer he plagiarized. The insecurity comes full circle when he’s confronted by the unsung author and told the tale of how “the words” were bought into the world – causing Rory to not only question his decision to steal but also his core understanding of what it means to be a “truth teller.”

While the layered narrative successfully presents the film’s fundamental juxtapositions (fiction vs. reality as well as true love vs. love of truth), only two of the three threads manage to present engrossing onscreen drama. The Hammond layer, which frames the subsequent storylines and casts doubt on potential connections, is wrought with preachy postulations about being an author – as well as a bizarre set of scenes between the character and an inquisitive Columbia graduate student (Wilde). Any interesting chemistry between the two adept performers is overshadowed by a number of heavy-handed, albeit still enigmatic, “answers” about Hammond’s book and characters. It’s easy to understand the function of the Hammond plotline and, for the most part, it serves its purpose but it’s easily the most awkward and likely for some, confusing, element of the ensemble.

Fortunately, the Rory layer as well as The Young Man layer both deliver solid performances, rich character encounters, and even some striking visual compositions that enliven story beats with captivating cinematography. Rory’s arc, which successfully chronicles his transition from an idealistic would-be novelist that wants to be a celebrated author (with little to actually say) into a disillusioned celebrity confronted with actual “truth” is absorbing. Rory’s motivations are especially interesting, much more profound than simple fame/fortune, and Cooper manages to present a likable and relatable character – in spite of a despicable and cowardly decision. Dora (Saldana) is also a sharp motor for the narrative, helping to progress the storyline and serve as an able point of comparison for some of the larger thematic elements.

Dennis Quaid Olivia Wilde The Words The Words Review

Dennis Quaid and Olivia Wilde in ‘The Words’

Despite a marketing focus on Rory and Dora, the story of The Young Man, played by Ben Barnes (The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) is easily the most fascinating element of the film - since it pulls double duty: allowing viewers access to the actual origin of The Words as well as showcasing why Rory would be so affected by the story in the first place. Similarly, The Author (Jeremy Irons), who isn’t out for financial payback, adds a smart complexity to what would otherwise be a standard cause and effect film. Instead, The Words bucks the usual cliches and attempts to say something more intelligent about artists, inspiration, and truth – whether or not casual moviegoers will be able to fully appreciate the attempt, however, is hard to imagine.

The movie is overwrought insinuations about authors/the state of the literary world and, as mentioned, the final chapter strikes an awkward and off-putting balance between withholding and inundating viewers with information in an attempt to hammer home its biggest “lesson.” For anyone on board with the idea, and the literary theory behind it, the back and forth will help support the core message but viewers hoping for something more concrete will likely be left scratching their heads.

Despite an exposition-heavy outer layer, The Words delivers on two out of the three narrative threads that it presents and offers a somewhat thought-provoking and evocative meditation on truth – especially for anyone with an appreciation for literary writing. However, the film is non-traditional and moviegoers hoping for a fully contained drama thriller will likely be underwhelmed by the movie’s attempt at addressing larger philosophical questions. Not all of The Words are unique but the way they come together should provide a stirring experience for anyone fluent in nuanced literary drama.

If you’re still on the fence about The Words, check out the trailer below:

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Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

The Words is Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and smoking. Now playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5
(Good)

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17 Comments

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  1. I am looking for this one. Great cast.

  2. I actually saw this yesterday in a screening… I’m not sure if I’m completely confused or if this is actually what happened…

    ****SPOILER ALERT****
    But basically, is Hammond’s story about Rory really a story about himself when he was younger, and that’s why he still wears his wedding band even though his wife left him, and that the “old man” was actually pure fiction, he made that part up and it was actually his own conscience that caused him to reveal the truth to his wife and publisher?? For some reason that was what I got from the movie, lol. I might be completely off…

  3. @Gabriel I have to say that i’m pretty sure that the reviewer purposely lowered the score b/c his reviews are for the “Average” viewer, if you consider yourself one of those this movie isn’t for you, i saw it last night, and was honestly pretty impressed at how profound the movie was, it really strives for some really deep and intricate morals/messages. I was captivated basically from like 10 minutes in, i found it to be excellent. The ending while is definitely a head scratcher, took me time to interpret, but that further proves the point of how it isn’t for the average viewer, i’m amazed how much advertising this movie is getting, it isn’t for everyone.

    I’m further amazed that rotten tomatoes have given this such a low rating, I would expect mediocre reviews from the community, but by critics I’d expect this to be a smash hit frankly. The acting is superb, the plot is extremely compelling, and even it’s one weak point that Ben here poitned out, the Dennis Quaid/Olivia wilde thread, i found even that despite having it’s weak moments to be pretty compelling as well, simply b/c Quaid as always was utterly fantastic, and his chemistry with Wilde was unquestionable, so they kind of pushed through a lot of the weak script moments. Zoe Saldana and Bradley cooper were insanely believable as a couple which further helps the movie.

    TLDR: Cast was fantastic, which even in Quaid/Wilde’s weak script moments they overcome, i just think they should of reworked the last 5 minutes, especially the actual ending itself to appeal to the masses more, it definitely has it’s appeal to someone like me whos extremely analytical and loves symbolish, but even for me it might be a bit heavyhanded on that. As Ben said in his review, not recommended for the “Average” viewer.

    • If scores of good movies got lowered for the sake of average viewers, then virtually all awards season movies or any cerebral movie in general would be mauled by critics, and Michael Bay would be a critical darling. That’s a cop out argument for a sucky movie.

      • First off, i was only referring to this site in particular that lowered the scoring, no other site, so your argument has no merit. There is definitely a difference between a movie like this and your standard award season movies, as this one is extremely heavy handed on it’s symbolism and the ending especially will not be appreciated at all by someone you would consider an “Average Viewer” Not sure i’d say that across the board what so ever for those award season movies.

  4. Good review Ben .
    The score seems about right to me .
    I really enjoyed the film .
    I felt like I had just read a very good book .
    Yes , the ending is a bit of a puzzler.
    But, I didnt feel cheated.
    I was fascinated by this film.

  5. Shocked to see all these bad reviews. I actually loved it and would definitely recommend it. The ending was a bit bizarre but definitely makes you think. I thought it was awesome — and the actors in it as well

  6. I loved everything about “The Words”– the screenplay, the acting, the directing, the photography, the score …. It was an ambitious and challenging undertaking for the film makers, especially on such a limited budget and 25 day shooting schedule, but they created a film that the major studios could certainly learn from. I enjoyed your review for its intelligent analysis of the film, which most critics appear to be incapable of doing. Although I do not concur with everything that you wrote, your review broadened my vision of this movie. I hope that you agree with me in expecting that “The Words” will get full recognition at awards time.

  7. Awards might be a longshot.
    unfortunately the Academy looks at box office too .
    And the film didnt too well.
    Still, you never know .

  8. It´s brilliant.

  9. I just saw the film last night, and have to argue that 3 stars is a rather poor reception for a 5 star deserving film such as “The Words”. Since yesterday I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the film; it’s beautiful as well as multilayered with narrative. It’s one of those films that really makes you think about what you just saw; it definitely has “soul” into the narrative, something that many blockbusters lack. If you like a intriguing, interesting plots, intelligent films, then I highly recommend you watch this movie.

  10. I saw this last night and found it to be an excellent movie. One of those films that stays with you and rolls over in your head the next day. Excellently told and with great acting. I will admit I found myself temporarily annoyed when the story ended and credits began rolling. One of those “that’s it?” reactions…but then I started thinking about the movie and talking about it with my wife. Then, 10 minutes later–it hit me. I got it. (Or least I think so…lol.) I can see where casual moviegoers would not be happy with the movie. For those who like a film that feels like a good novel, though, you must watch this movie. When you connect the thematic dots between the three writers in the film, you can’t help but turn thoughts inward and apply the same terms to yourself and wonder if you have been guilty of putting your own metaphorical novel in front of the person you love most…and whose absence will haunt you the rest of your life.

  11. was nice

  12. Worst film ever

  13. Halo
    Me no understand film beecaaase me not English speaking too busy eying my curry no timaaaa for words dilm

  14. This review makes it seem as though this movie requires an acquired taste when it was simple a shallow attempt at making a deep story. I did think the ending was good since i expected a cheesier one

  15. I watched this a couple of days ago and actually really enjoyed it. there wasn’t – as far as I feel – a false note anywhere; although I do agree that it was a bit over the top in places; nevertheless everyone did a really nice job getting a complicated story across.