The Words is a film with a fascinating story at its core. It revolves around a writer, Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), who puts everything he has into writing a book that ends up being rejected by every publisher he submits it to. Just when he thinks his writing career might not take off, he happens upon a valise that contains an old manuscript for a novel written 50 years ago, telling the tale of a young soldier who falls in love with a French woman.
In his desperateness to have a successful writing career, he takes the amazingly-written novel and submits it as his own. It is immediately published, getting him massive acclaim from everyone who reads it. It brings him everything he ever wanted: fame, success, and a means of getting his other work published. However, the novel’s true author (Jeremy Irons) ends up finding him, not for revenge, not for money, but simply to tell him the story behind the story. This puts Rory in a difficult position. He wants to do right by the real author, “The Old Man” as he’s called in the film, but he doesn’t know how to do that without destroying everything he’s gained from his theft.
This is the intriguing story at the heart of The Words. If the writers/directors, Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, had left it at that, then the film would have worked just fine. However, they decided to use a multi-layering technique that merely ends up taking away from the heart of the film. At its start, we meet Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid), an author who is giving a public reading from his new book “The Words,” which tells the story that I have just described above.
So, to keep things clear, we have Clay telling the story of Rory and The Old Man, the latter of which tells the story of The Young Man and a French woman named Celia. As it turns out, the first layer was completely unnecessary as it doesn’t add anything to the story whatsoever. It merely feels like a distraction as it wastes time with Clay and a young woman (Olivia Wilde) that he meets at the reading. It does eventually get to the point where we’re supposed to question whether or not Clay is Rory from the story, but it’s such an ambiguous connection that it really serves no purpose in the telling of the main story.
The film works best when it’s focusing on the central tale. The way it blends in the story of The Old Man is done quite well too. We learn that he was a soldier in Paris during the war, which is where he met Celia, a waitress at a café. The two quickly fall in love, teaching each other their respective languages. They even have a child, but unfortunately it dies at a very young age. This forms a rift between the two, leading to more heartbreak, and eventually leading The Young Man to write the book that would make a big impact 50 years later.
It’s not a very long section, but it just goes to show that, in order to tell a good love story, it doesn’t need to be drawn out. What also helps this section out immensely is the great performance from Jeremy Irons, who, while not in the flashback, does relay much of the tale to us in the present. He shows that he’s still got it as he divulges this heartbreaking tale. He gives quite a lot to this small, mysterious character whose motives seem questionable to Rory. He finds it hard to believe that all The Old Man wants is for him to understand the importance of the story, but that’s really all he cares about.
Going back to the layering concept used by the filmmakers, this is what makes the third act a bit of a mess. When the main story feels like it’s heading towards a resolution of Rory’s moral quandary, it annoyingly switches to that extra layer and tries to resolve it through there instead. I mentioned earlier how it tries to force you to draw a connection between Clay and Rory, but by trying to bring things to a head with a character that we’ve had no emotional attachment to, it ends up falling flat right when it should have a strong emotional impact.
It is rather unfortunate that the filmmakers chose to structure the film this way. There is a really good movie in here that is dying to get out, but it ends up getting smothered by excess that was clearly not needed. It was interesting to learn that they had worked on this film for over ten years before finally getting the chance to make it, which makes me wonder if they always planned to do it this way, or if there was an earlier draft that had the solid focus on Rory that the film was missing. It just goes to show that being a little too ambitious with a small story can sometimes hurt it quite a bit.
Turning now to the technical aspects of the Blu-Ray, the film is presented in a 1080p, 1.85:1 HD transfer that is a little fuzzier than your standard Blu-Ray picture. It’s still a decent picture over all, though it could have been sharpened a little more for a clearer image. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is loud and clear at all times, allowing for every bit of dialogue to be heard quite lucidly.
The disc comes with the following special features:
- Extended Special Edition
- Unabridged: A Look Behind the Scenes of The Words
- A Gentlemen’s Agreement: A Look at How Bradley Cooper and the Filmmakers Found The Words
- “Clay and Daniella” and “The Young Man and Celia:” In-Depth Character Profiles
Unfortunately, this release is severely lacking in good extras. The Behind the Scenes featurette runs about eight minutes and hardly tells you anything about the film other than the fact that the filmmakers worked on it for over ten years and that Bradley Cooper, who has been friends with one of them since childhood, had wanted to do it for a long time. The other featurettes are lifted almost entirely out of the main Behind the Scenes featurette, making them pointless to watch. Plus, the “In-Depth Character Profiles” are incorrectly named given that they are not “in-depth” in the least.
While ultimately I can’t recommend this release of The Words, I’m still interested to see what Klugman and Sternthal come up with next. This film shows that they can put together an engaging story and intriguing characters, but that they also need to learn how to concentrate on its important elements while leaving out the parts that don’t help that story. If they take this under advisement, it’s very possible that they could come up with something quite special.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.