Sunday 1 July 2018

Movie Review: The Words (2012)

A drama about the thin line between truth and fiction, The Words is a finely crafted story of success, guilt and self-justification.

Celebrated author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) is delivering a reading of his latest bestselling novel The Words in front of a live audience. The book is about young New York-based author Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), who achieves overnight success when his short novel becomes an unexpected literary hit.

For many years Rory and his wife Dora (Zoe Saldana) had struggled on meagre incomes, waiting for his career to take off, but Rory experienced nothing but rejections. After they honeymoon in Paris, Rory stumbles upon an old typewritten manuscript in an old satchel bag. Dora mistakes it for his work, he claims it as his own, and it turns into his big break. But the appearance of an old man (Jeremy Irons) threatens Rory's success, while at the reading event, young literary student Daniella (Olivia Wilde) tries to seduce Clay into revealing the true meaning behind The Words.

Co-directed and co-written by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, The Words is a clever story within a story within a story, with the multiple layers revolving around the creative process of putting words onto paper. The fictional Rory is the film's fulcrum, the manuscript he finds hides an old and deeply personal Parisian family tragedy of love found and lost, and the author Clay is the creator of both Rory's dilemma and the discovery that makes him famous.

Klugman and Sternthal jump around in time and alternate between the fictional world of Rory, the old man's haunting background and Clay's here-and-now reality, and easily manage to keep all three interlaced stories coherent. With one established author, one emerging author and one writer who never was, the film tackles several worthwhile themes, and poses some piercing questions about what constitutes success, the value of owning an experience, and the various guises of inspiration.

Rory feels he did not earn his fame and is undeserving of the accolades, and guilt will haunt him as he strides to the forefront of the literary world. The words he wrote are not his own, but they did fall into his laptop, unclaimed. The old man has to contend with his bittersweet experiences, hitherto only living within him, gaining widespread and unexpected exposure. And Clay conceives of this story perhaps as a mechanism to cleanse his soul, Daniella representing his interrogator as she probes the secrets underpinning the famous author's success.

Understandably, not all parts of The Words work equally well. The scenes in Paris are bathed in sepia tones and are a touch too emotionally utopian, while the interaction between Clay and Daniella is marginally forced. With Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana and Jeremy Irons all in fine form, the central story of Rory, Dora and the old man is the most powerful, and fortunately this is where the film invests most of its time.

Thought-provoking, nuanced and delicate, The Words shimmer off the page and onto an enjoyable screen experience.

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