The film opens on Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), a writer who has just hit the jackpot with his first book “The Window Tears.” It has brought him all of the fame and fortune he has ever dreamed of. There’s only one catch: Rory plagiarized it. How and why sets up the first third of the film, where we learn how Rory was an aspiring writer who had written a couple of mesmerizing short stories, but no one was willing to publish him.
Then, when Rory honeymoons with his wife (Zoe Saldana) in Paris, he comes upon an old satchel in an antique store that she decides to buy for him. Some time later, as he is continuing to sell his manuscripts, he discovers a folder with a manuscript in one of its pockets. Rory is so touched by the words he ends up reading that he decides to type them verbatim to see what it feels like for him.
The problem is that his wife soon sees it and suggests that he try to submit it. He does, and of course it gets published. It isn’t long before an old man (Jeremy Irons) comes into his life to let him know that the story was his. How and why he actually wrote it is the subject of the second third of the story.
For about an hour, The Words is a potentially great film, but what kills it is the final third of the film. The film’s linking device is a writer named Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid), who has written the story (we never do find out if it is true, but maybe that was the intention). His initial scenes with an underused Olivia Wilde are interesting to a point, but once the main stories of Cooper and Irons have been revealed, the film is essentially left to them and none of their remaining scenes are good or interesting.
The big issue it seems is that Wilde’s only motivation is that she wants to seduce Quaid for no reason, and in many ways, she makes herself look bad. It’s probably not her fault, but if that’s her only real motivation, then her character was completely unneeded in the first place. It’s scenes like those that made me wish that they had rethought the entire third act. Everything up to this point was so good that when these scenes come, it’s almost like a slap in the face to everything that we’ve grown to love.
The film also has one of the most intrusive scores of any film in a long time (courtesy of composer Marcelo Zarvos). Zarvos has written some wonderful scores for films like You Kill Me and Too Big to Fail, but this is not one of them. None of this is the fault of Zarvos, either. The score just doesn’t work well against these images, which is a shame because in a better movie this score might be Oscar-worthy. In another drama this music would’ve worked very well, but here it just derails a good chunk of the movie just by its sheer presence.
These serious flaws keep The Words from being something more.It’s at times a very well-thought out film about the writing process, and the performances from Cooper and Irons are especially engaging. Even Ben Barnes is very good as the younger version of Irons. Unfortunately, the film’s final third just doesn’t work.
There is a great movie trying to reach out of The Words, but it never comes. We expect to be moved and touched by it, and instead, we are badly manipulated by it. This isn’t a bad movie in the least, but it’s stopped short thanks to a finale that has no business being in a movie like this. There’s no resolution or payoff. To paraphrase a much better movie, The Words could have had class. It could have been a contender. It could have been somebody. It has enough virtue that it might be worthy of a rental when it comes out on video, but you’ll be better off skipping its theatrical run.