By Joan Ellis
The Words slipped into town on a raft of mediocre reviews and little hype. What a surprise then to enjoy every frame of this carefully crafted movie. Expect to be confused by the subtleties of plot, but do see it.
Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) is reading his new book aloud to an appreciative New York audience. The Words tells the story of Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), a struggling novelist with an inbox full of rejection letters. On their honeymoon in Paris, Rory and his wife Dora (Zoe Saldana) are browsing in an antique shop when they spot an old briefcase, a perfect fit for a writer’s aspirations. When Rory discovers a manuscript inside, he realizes quickly that he will never be able to write that well himself. And so the deception begins. He will retype it as his own, submit it and soak up the benefits of being an overnight sensation courtesy of The Window Tears by an unknown author.
The manuscript in the briefcase is a reminder of the loss in the 1920s of a suitcase full of Ernest Hemingway’s work left in a Paris taxi by his wife Hadley, a loss that contributed to the collapse of their marriage. A nice detail: as part of the divorce settlement, Hadley was given the rights to the novel Hemingway was working on at the moment which happened to be The Sun Also Rises.
Enter Jeremy Irons as the unnamed author of the best-selling lost/found book. Once Irons is on screen, everyone else seems to fade away. He creates a searing portrait of the nameless Old Man in pain and sadness. You will be forgiven if you ask yourself who wrote which book. Whose story is it that gives us Rory Jansen or the Old Man? Clay tells us that the line between life and fiction is very thin, a comforting reminder as we wrestle the question of who is real and who is fictional. The only guarantee: You will leave the theater with questions.
The movie revolves around a marvelous moral question of literary theft and the character of the men and women whose lives it upends. Nora Amazeder is fine as the young French wife of the Old Man in this youth. Danielle (Olivia Wilde) creates a graduate student whose fawning approach sprouts into strength in her later scenes with Dennis Quaid. Zoe Saldana is a knockout as the fiery, devoted wife to Bradley Cooper’s Rory, and Cooper himself is good as the compromised writer. But the core of it all is Jeremy Irons who rivets us whenever he is on screen.
There are faults and inconsistencies to be found here but the odd thing is that none of them mars the very strong story; all are quickly forgotten. The overriding reaction is one of gratitude to writers/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Stemthal for spinning a yarn that rescues us with gusto from the barren summer season.
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.