Wednesday, September 12, 2012

For a Movie About Books, The Storytelling is Quite Weak: Our Review of "The Words" (2012)

Directed By: Brian Klugman & Lee Sternthal

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde

Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language and smoking

Run Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Synopsis: Clay Hammond is a celebrated author and has a new book called "The Words" about a struggling writer named Rory (Cooper) who finds an old manuscript, publishes it as his own and is then confronted by the true author of the story (Irons). During a public reading of his novel, Hammond catches the attention of a student (Wilde) who wants to know more about the book.


Andrew: Hello readers! Sarah and I caught a late afternoon showing of The Words yesterday afternoon. Starring Bradley Cooper (The Hangover), Zoe Saldana (Star Trek), Jeremy Irons (Die Hard: With a Vengeance), Dennis Quaid (The Parent Trap) and Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy), this is a movie whose trailer we have seen a million times…

Sarah: Both in actual trailer form and with those AMC “First Look” things they play before movies. So we’ve been seeing about this movie forever.

A: And it didn’t come out wide until just recently (or at least didn’t hit our neck of the woods until recently) and is one that had our interest. Now that we’ve seen it I have to say…I’m having trouble deciding how I feel about this movie. Because there are parts of it that I really liked and then there’s one large thing about it that total irks me and it’s throwing things up in the air for me.

S: I definitely have mixed feelings on it, too.

A: The primary reason for those mixed feelings, for me, is that in all the trailers and everything else we’re lead to believe that the movie is about Bradley Cooper’s Rory, who’s an aspiring novelist that has been rejected a few times and finds a manuscript in an old briefcase while in Paris, he decides to publish the manuscript as his own and is eventually confronted by an old man, played by Jeremy Irons, who actually wrote the manuscript. We’re lead to believe that’s what the main story is about and we never really know from the trailers how Dennis  Quaid and Olivia Wilde play in to the plot.

Well the hook that’s throwing me for a loop is that  Quaid plays a famous novelist named Clay Hammond who has written a book called “The Words” and it turns out that Rory, his wife Dora (Saldana) and Iron’s Old Man (he’s never given a name) are characters in Hammond’s book. So it’s a storytelling device and it’s completely thrown me.

S: It’s a story about stories, is the way I look at it.

A: It really is. And Quaid’s Hammond narrates the story from time to time…

Guess what? Dennis Quaid ends up having way more to do with the movie than originally thought, and that's not necessarily a good thing.

S: Yes, which the film kind of breaks into three separate acts. Hammond is reading his new book to an audience at Columbia University and the first act is him reading the first part of the book, which revolves around Rory and Dora and how Rory struggles to be the writer he knows he can be. He encounters a lot of rejection and when he comes across this manuscript he eventually publishes it as his own.

Act two is the second part of Hammond’s book that he reads, and focuses on Irons’ Old Man confronting Rory and we get to hear the Old Man’s true story that he would end up writing about – the story Rory falls in love with, the story Dora fell in love with that leads to it being published into a book that the whole world ends up falling in love with.

Act three brings us to a completely different area where it’s now after the book reading and Hammond brings Wilde’s Daniella, a Columbia student, back to his apartment and they’re now in the forefront. It sort of shatters the illusion the film had built up until then.

A: Yeah, the film only really goes to  Quaid and Wilde a few times early on to break the film into those acts, where Hammond is reading the book and Daniella is a student who clearly wants to jump his bones and then they go back to his apartment. It’s there that she asks him how the last part of the book finishes, which gets us to act three.

S: But it’s not done the same way that parts one and two were done. It’s more narrated by Quaid and cuts back and forth between Hammond’s story and the interaction between Hammond and Daniella in the apartment.

A: So the thing that’s bothering me (and **POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT**): I really liked act one and I really liked act two, but it’s that third act where Wilde’s character asks how it ends and wants to find out what happens to Rory. Because it turns out nothing really happens to him.

S: He doesn’t really ever suffer any consequences for his plagiarism.

A: He has to decide if he’s going to take his name off the book and potentially ruin his career (as well as the career of his publishing agent) or maybe try and pay off the Old Man. And Rory and the Old Man have a great scene at the end of the movie that you really liked…

S: Their final scene together is one of the strongest in the film that wasn’t given away in the trailer.

A: But then nothing happens after that scene. There’s no conclusion to that and even Daniella calls B.S. on Hammond. Then you kind of get the whole gist of why Hammond wrote the book, but I’m going along with Wilde’s character – I call B.S. on this. There’s no end to this movie, it’s not satisfactory and it really kind of ruins what the movie had built up to.

S: Agreed.

A: I’m not usually one to bash a movie for a bad ending if the rest of the movie was good, but in this instance it’s really bugging me.

S: Well what they tried to do was take a movie about a moral grey area and tried to give it a nice little bow at the end, like, “Nothing bad happens! It’s all good, happy happy!” And I’m like, “No! A movie is allowed to not have a happy ending!” Or it’s allowed to…

A: Well it’s really more of an ambiguous ending and in this case it’s really bothering me and it’s because of that storytelling device of the character’s we’re really meant to care about only being characters in another dude’s book.

Where if they had just made the film about Rory and the Old Man and told in a traditional narrative, if it wasn’t that they were just characters in a book some other guy had written, if that’s the movie then I think it would have been way better. It could have had a real conclusion and could have been more satisfactory that way.

S: I struggled because I don’t think Quaid or Wilde were the right actors to play the characters they did, because there was this other aspect of the film and I felt their performances were forced. Quaid’s narration was not good. He does not have a pleasing voice to listen to as a narrator. It’s about as flat as two-day old soda pop. And Wilde’s groupie character was so out of character for what she can do as an actress. It was almost a little bit…I think beneath her skills. I didn’t find it believable.

A: You know what? We haven’t even really touched on the meat of the movie, so let’s forget about the storytelling device and focus on Rory and the Old Man’s story.

S: Cooper’s Rory and Saldana’s Dora are a young married couple who are madly in love, living in Brooklyn…they’re very believable, I felt. Dora clearly has the job to support Rory the writer…I liked their story. I liked their chemistry, I thought it was really good.

A: They had great chemistry.

Bradley Cooper certainly looks the part of a struggling actor in The Words, and this is probably one of his better dramatic performances to date.

S: Because typically I’m not a huge Bradley Cooper fan. I find that he’s usually along the same line as Matthew McConaughey in that they don’t impress me with their acting skills too much. But Cooper did a good job in this one.

A: He does a very good job in The Words. It might actually be one of this best acting jobs yet, especially dramatically speaking.

S: He LOOKS like a writer. It sort of reminds me of his job in Limitless, he just LOOKS kind of haggard.

A: So let’s talk about what happens: he finds the manuscript, and what I liked about this story is that Rory doesn’t plan on publishing this story. That was never his intention. He just finds it, he reads it and realizes it’s much better than anything he could ever write and eats away at him. So he types it up on his laptop because he just wants to feel the words flow through his fingertips. And it’s Dora that finds it on the computer and basically guilts him into publishing it because she thinks it’s his work and that it’s better than anything he’s written before.

And that’s a good scene, between the two of them, the way Rory looks when Dora tells him she found the story…

S: Well it’s because he’s shocked.

A: Not only that, but Dora says something along the lines of, “I knew you had it in you, you just never tapped it until now.” And the look on his face when she says this because he realizes what she really thinks about him, and ultimately it’s what everyone else also thinks about him, too.

S: So then he feels more like a failure than a success.

A: Exactly, and I like that aspect of the film, that he never meant to publish it but now he kind of has to to save face with his wife. And then my other favorite scene is the scene when the Old Man finally confronts Rory in Central Park. It’s chock full of dramatic irony in that WE know he is the true author and he slowly gives Rory tidbits and slowly reveals to him that he knows he plagiarized his work.

S: That is a very good scene. It’s really well acted by both Irons and Cooper. I will say this, I wish they hadn’t given away so much in the trailer, but it’s very well-acted and very well-directed scene.

The scene where Jeremy Irons' Old Man first confronts Cooper's Rory about the plagiarized manuscript is probably the best in the movie.

A: It’s a fantastic scene between Irons and Cooper. And you know, I liked the flashback scenes of when the Old Man is telling his story to Rory. I think they casted the Young Man perfectly with Ben Barnes (The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian)…

S: I loved the way they filmed it, it looked like you were watching a film from the 1940s. They shot the flashback scenes of when the Young Man was in Paris just after World War II ended in a way that it looked like it was on film and had a great, soft look to it. Those scenes were also sad, very real and very believable.

A: Definitely believable, except for when the Young Man’s wife, Celia, originally can only say one word in English (“Yes”) and in the next scene she can speak near fluent English.

So I liked all those things we just talked about and that’s why the storytelling device nearly ruins it all for me.

S: Again, we have very mixed feelings on this one.

A: Probably more than any other movie we’ve seen this year.

S: Because it had so much potential and fell flat in the end. I’m not going to give it the hard “no” that critics seem to have given it, because I do think it has some merit to it. But it’s definitely a bit of a disappointment at the end.

A: Agreed. So what are our final thoughts on The Words?

S: Unless you’ve seen trailers and you’re of the feeling that you just HAVE to see this movie, then see it in theatres. Otherwise wait for it and watch it on DVD.

FINAL VERDICT: Netflix it!

(Out of Five clapboards)


  1. Good review. Could have had more suspense and tension to the whole story, but had some nice dramatic moments to hold onto here and there. But still, could have done more with its neat premise. Hopefully Bradley can avenge himself later in the year with the Silver Linings Playbook. Can't wait for that one!

    1. Totally agreed. They had the set-up pretty well done for the most part, but the Quaid character reading the book sorta jumbled it all up when it could have been way smoother and there could have been higher stakes.

      So far we've only read good things about Silver Linings Playbook, so we're right there with ya!

  2. Yep, definitely not going to see this. Sounds overly-weird and out of place. As a side note (don't hate me), you spelled Quaid Quiad multiple times lol.

    Keep on keeping on though.

    1. Wow. Don't know how I missed that during editing. Nice catch. I just went through and changed it. Still, I'm going to go stand over in this corner for a while...... - A

  3. Glad I read this. It looked so good from the trailers. I can't stand paying $10 for a ticket when it's a buck at the redbox.

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