He was a reviewer who reviewed alone and he watched the movie unfold before him, watching the smooth and blank face of Bradley Cooper and the rugged, leathery wrinkles of Dennis Quaid and the saggy eye-pouches of Jeremy Irons. He didn’t think the credits would ever roll but still hope remained. The hope of release from “The Words.”
Apparently, Hemingway’s wife once lost a briefcase in Paris that contained a novel he was working on. The work was lost forever. According to the filmmakers, this incident was the nugget of inspiration for the film “The Words,” starring Dennis Quaid and Bradley Cooper. Quaid plays Clay Hammond, a successful author whose public reading of his latest novel is the framing device for the story of Bradley Cooper’s character, Rory Jansen. In Hammond’s book, Jansen is a struggling young writer who finds an unpublished, long-lost novel by another writer and claims it as his own. When Jansen’s book meets immediate success and fame, the real author, played by Jeremy Irons, comes calling and tells Jansen how he came to write the original book and how he lost it.
Oh, if only it had stayed lost. “The Words” is a humorless, tedious exploration of inspiration and writing, the vagaries of fate, and the mystery of how Bradley Cooper came to be an A-list star. This film sheds no meaningful light on any of those subjects, and indeed only further clouds the last one. Cooper’s acting style relies heavily on a sort of smug, facile charm, and at least in that respect, he is ideally cast here as the smug, facile caricature of a young writer. Jansen’s struggles as a writer, and the resulting plagiaristic dilemma, are never believable or involving, and Cooper’s hollow performance adds nothing.
From the opening voiceover, “The Words” is only a punctuation mark away from self-parody. Hammond’s book is clearly supposed to be Great Writing, but the passages we hear seem more like a high school creative writing project, with the goal to write like Hemingway, if Hemingway had grown up reading nothing but Nicholas Sparks novels. The flirtation and ensuing confrontation between Hammond and the young graduate student, played ineffectually by Nora Arnezeder, is as inviting and warm as a pick-up in a DMV waiting room.
Jeremy Irons brings a strained dignity to his role as the deprived author that the film elsewhere never really earns, and there are several talented character actors (JK Simmons, Ron Rifkin, Zeljko Ivanek) who liven up the movie for a brief moment or two. But the script, by co-directors Brian Klugman and Lee Bernthal, loads up on a cloying, Romantic concept and runs with it, exploiting predictable emotional moments with dispiriting lack of affect. At one point, I actually slapped my own forehead out of disbelief. No, really… I watched as a young soldier locked eyes on a Parisian waitress just as I knew he would, and…whap! My own little cliché in front of a bigger cliché. Hmm…life DOES imitate art after all.
The reviewer stopped writing. He had said all that needed to be said and he thought darkly of the six extra minutes included in this “special extended edition.” 103 minutes of life he could never get back. He went to the kitchen and got a bottle and drank heavily, sighing.
The video is hi-def 1080p in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Antonio Calvache’s cinematography is presented cleanly and clearly. The earthy tone of the Parisian scenes looks particularly appealing. There are subtitle tracks in English, English SDH and Spanish.
The audio track is 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Sound is reasonably clear and well-centered. There are no audio set-up options.
- Unabridged: A Look Behind the Scenes of The Words – a standard making-of short, with cast and crew interviews, interesting mostly for the story of how long this script has been in the pipeline, and its roots in the Hemingway mis-adventure
- A Gentleman’s Agreement – a mercifully brief piece of puffery about how Bradley Cooper got famous enough to finally get the movie made
- Clay and Daniella – further scraps of information about the characters played by Quaid and Olivia Wilde, (probably footage cut from the making-of doc). Noted on the disc case as “exclusive to Blu-ray.”
- The Young Man and Celia –see previous, only substitute character played by Ben Barnes
A premise with possibilities goes wanting, as “The Words” spells out its story in tiresome and obvious terms, and with a flat, humorless performance by Bradley Cooper in the lead role.