- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © CBS Films
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
BS Films has tried their hand at just about every genre except science fiction since the studio’s conception a few years ago, but they haven't had a whole lot of success, both critically and commercially, and "The Words" doesn't seem very likely to buck that trend. Though it's a slight improvement over their past projects, the romantic drama still feels like a made-for-TV movie trying to disguise its many shortcomings with big Hollywood stars. That may suggest a strong sign of intent on the part of the studio to make better movies, but until the quality of the material is equal to the talent, that approach almost does more harm than good.
The cinematic equivalent of a Russian nesting doll, the film opens with renowned author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) reading passages from his newest novel The Words, about an aspiring writer named Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) who’s given up on his dream when he suddenly finds success with a World War II-based love story that he didn’t actually write. Hidden in an old satchel that he discovered during a honeymoon trip to Paris with his wife Dora (Zoe Saldana), Rory copies the manuscript verbatim onto his computer, only for Dora to mistake it as his own. After she persuades him to show the novel to a publisher, Rory becomes a literary sensation overnight, prompting the story’s actual author (Jeremy Irons) to confront him about not only stealing his work, but the very personal life experiences he based it on.
By the time the movie delves into the flashbacks of Irons’ character as a young soldier stationed in Paris, however, “The Words” starts to fall apart. While the idea of staging a story within a story within a story might sound like an intriguing narrative device, co-writers/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal confuse complexity for cleverness. Running only 96 minutes long, there simply isn’t enough time to give all three stories the attention they deserve, so it’s a shame to see some of it wasted on the Hammond plot, which feels entirely pointless when the very nature of the book event means that the audience never gets the whole story, only the passages that he's selected to read. That's time that could've been better spent further exploring Rory's moral dilemma, which is terribly underwritten considering that his actions are what drive the main plot.
It’s hard to fault any of the actors for the script’s inadequacies, although it does call into question why they bothered to sign onto a film with such paper-thin characters. Though Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Irons share a couple good scenes together, Dennis Quaid is mostly relegated to narration duties, while Zoe Saldana, Olivia Wilde and Ben Barnes (playing the younger version of Irons in the flashbacks) have very little to do. That only makes it even more difficult to care what happens to the characters, particularly those that are pure fiction. And that's the biggest problem with "The Words," because while the two connecting stories make for a relatively intriguing drama, by introducing a third story as a framing device, it completely undermines the effectiveness of the whole film.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
After its dismal performance at the box office, it’s not surprising that “The Words” has been dumped onto Blu-ray with very little in the way of extras. Though the disc includes a brief making-of featurette and a pair of character profiles that makes a mockery of the phrase “Blu-ray exclusive,” Lionsgate would’ve been better off not even bothering at all.