Sony // 2012 // 103 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // January 1st, 2013
There's more than one way to take a life.
"I'm not who I thought I was, okay? I'm not. And I'm afraid I'll never be."
This is the story of Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid, American Dreamz), Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper, Limitless) and a nameless old man (Jeremy Irons, Dead Ringers). All three men are writers who have come to one of life's many crossroads. The Words tells the story of how these men connect, who they are and the difficult decisions they're forced to make.
The Words is a Russian nesting doll of a movie, containing a story within a story within a story. It's a cleverly constructed affair that takes great care to present its complicated structure with clarity. Unfortunately, none of the stories being told is particularly compelling or goes anywhere terribly interesting, which leads the film to feel like a whole lot of needless effort. A solid cast is in place, the technical details are strong, and the plotting is tight on a structural level, but these virtues lack a center.
The first (and at a glance, least eventful) story centers on Clay, a present-day author who is presenting a reading of his new book The Words. During a break, he encounters an aspiring young writer (Olivia Wilde, House, M.D.) who is eager to pick his brain. The fact that this young writer is exceptionally attractive seems to pique Clay's interest, so he invites her back to his place to discuss the book. They spend most of their time talking about the tale's fictional protagonist Rory Jansen.
Rory is the central figure of the tale's second story, which is adapted from Clay's novel. He's a talented young writer who just hasn't found his break yet, and the constant rejection has caused him to think about quitting. However, one day he finds an old manuscript containing a novel of astonishing quality. Eventually, he gives into temptation and decides to publish the novel as his own. It's an astonishing success, winning Rory rave reviews and awards of all sorts. Alas, one day Rory has the misfortune of encountering The Old Man who originally wrote the manuscript.
So begins our third story, as The Old Man tells Rory about the events in his life that led him to write the novel currently being sold under Rory's name. It's a melancholy WWII-era tale of love and loss, mostly told through footage featuring Ben Barnes (The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) as a young version of The Old Man.
It takes quite a lot of time for the film to simply set up these three different tales, but the most frustrating thing is that what The Words finally delivers is so underwhelming that the whole affair seems to have been a waste of time. It's like a elaborate instrumental prelude to a disappointingly bland song. One wonders if the filmmakers were so pleased with the elegance of their construction that they forgot about some of the other important details.
For the most part, the performances are merely functional. Bradley Cooper seems to sleepwalk through his role, playing notes of happiness and sadness with a tired shrug and never really transforming Rory into a compelling character. Dennis Quaid does his casually charming everyman thing about as well as he usually does, while Zoe Saldana and Olivia Wilde suffer due to the fact that they're pretty much saddled with the dull task of looking at the leading men they've been handed with great affection. The only actor who really makes a strong impression is Jeremy Irons, filled with bitterness and righteous anger as he relates his life story. Alas, he's often reduced to being a narrator as we observe the younger, blander Ben Barnes.
The Words (Blu-ray) has received an excellent 1080p/1.85:1 transfer that allows viewers to fully appreciate the film's strong production design. Detail is superb throughout, depth is impressive, blacks are deep and inky, flesh tones are natural and the whole thing has a wonderfully natural, filmic look. It's a fine-looking movie (albeit one with a rather subdued palette). The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is also strong, though this dialogue-driven film doesn't exactly have a lot going on in that department. The conversation is clean and clear, while Marcelo Zarvos' effective but anonymous score gets a rich mix. Supplements are pretty much limited to four featurettes that run less than fifteen minutes combined: "Unabridged: A Look Behind the Scenes of The Words," "A Gentleman's Agreement," "Clay and Daniella" and "The Young Man and Cecilia." You also get the theatrical version of the film (the extended cut featured on this Blu-ray is just five minutes longer).
The Words is an ambitious film, but it doesn't have a story substantial enough to support all of its narrative gimmickry.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Theatrical Cut