Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and smoking.
Starring Bradley Cooper, Olivia Wilde, Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Irons, Ben Barnes, Dennis Quaid, J. K. Simmons, John Hannah, Nora Arnezeder.
Written and Directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal.
Plagiarism is such a terrible crime. I hate it when it happens to me, but I'm even more upset when someone catches me doing it (just kidding about that second part).
Stealing someone else's words is the backdrop for The Words, a film starring Bradley Cooper as a struggling author looking for his first big break. Cooper plays Rory Jansen, a talented writer who cannot get published, despite all his efforts, nor the support of his devoted wife Dora (Zoe Saldana).
But wait...I need to back up.
Throughout the movie, Rory's story is actually told by another author named Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid), who participates in a public reading attended by a lovely infatuated grad student Daniella (Olivia Wilde). As Hammond reads his book (The Words), the film flashes back and forth to Rory's story (confused? I was, too.)
Back to Rory.
As his struggles to get published continue, Rory and his wife get married and honeymoon in Paris, where they stop into an antique store. Rory takes an interest in an old leather satchel, which Dora buys for him. When they return to the States, Rory discovers a first-draft manuscript inside the satchel, supposedly written in the years directly following World War II. The moving an emotional love story moves Rory, who decides to transcribe the manuscript word for word onto his laptop computer. Dora happens to read the manuscript and insists that he show it to his boss, who happens to be a big publishing executive in a firm where Rory works as a mail boy.
Of course, Rory's book is published, and he consequently gains great fame and fortune. At the pinnacle of his success, he is greeted by an old man (Jeremy Irons) who informs Rory that he is the author of the manuscript, and proceeds to tell him that most of the story in the book is true - and is his.
The old man's story involves his meeting of the beautiful Celie (Nora Arnezeder), a French waitress with whom he falls desperately in love (the younger "old man" is played by Ben Barnes - most recognized as Prince Caspian in the second Chronicles of Narnia movie).They marry, have a child, and then tragedy strikes, giving him the basis for his manuscript.
With the possibility of having his fraud exposed, Rory is wracked by guilt, and he spills the beans to Dora and his publisher. The plagiarism threatens to break up his marriage and his career, but the old man (clearly near death) tries to convince Rory that the damage has been done, and that there's no benefit in righting a wrong so many years later.
Remember Clay Hammond? As the story of Rory and the old man unfold, he tries to explain his story to Daniella - with parallels to his own struggles as a husband and author.
The Words would be a better film if it weren't wrapped in so many layers. It's a film about a book, which is about another book that was stolen from another author. Had the writing and directing team of Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal stuck to the simple story of Rory and the old man, it would have been much less convoluted and much easier to follow. There also would not have been a need for the ham-fisted attempt to "moralize" everything through the expository epilogue between Hammond and Daniella.
Cooper, Saldana and especially Jeremy Irons turn in adequate performances in a film, but despite their efforts, The Words could have been a lot more, with a lot less.