Review: The Words (Sundance 2012)
PLOT: A struggling writer (Bradley Cooper) finds a manuscript for a sprawling novel, and passes it off as his own. The novel is universally acclaimed as a masterpiece, but soon, an old man (Jeremy Irons) shows up to claim the manuscript as his own.
Certainly, THE WORDS is an ambitious film. The bold framing device (or pretentious depending on who you ask) involves a public reading by an older writer, played by Dennis Quaid, attended by an amorous English Lit major (Olivia Wilde) who listens as he reads his new novel, which is the Cooper/Saldana part of the film. From there the focus shifts to the A-story which involves Cooper struggling with his guilt over stealing another mans book. Once hes approached by Irons, the film shifts into yet another flashback, where Irons tells Copper about his youth (where hes played by Barnes) which led to him writing the book Copper is now passing off as his own. So basically, its a story, within a story, within a story.
While somewhat muddled, this technique works well- although, it gives the film a bit of an anthology vibe. Despite Cooper being top-billed, it also makes him feel like a bit of a supporting performer in his own film. By far, the most interesting story is the Irons/Barnes flashback, which sees him as a WW2 veteran, living a very Ernest Hemingway style existence in Paris, with his fragile French wife and sick child.
Considering the cast, its not much of a surprise to say that THE WORDS is well acted, although the Quaid/Wilde story line seems completely extraneous by the time the film is over,.
As it stands though, THE WORDS is still a very good film, although not the masterpiece that ten years of effort might have warranted. At ninety minutes, the film feels a little brief, especially with it containing three stories. Still, its very enjoyable. The film takes place in New York and Paris, but was completely shot in my home town of Montreal- although the location is hidden fairly well (save for a few exteriors which will be a little too familiar to any Montreal native). The score by Marcelo Zarvos is particularly striking, with it being highly reminiscent of the kind of scores John Barry used to compose for films like OUT OF AFRICA. Its lush, romantic, and compliments the action beautifully, particularly in the Paris/Barnes section.
Certainly though, THE WORDS seems like a film that could be commercial if CBS films (who acquired it early in the fest) gives it a good push- not only due to the cast, but also due to the tragic romance at the heart of it, involving young Barnes and his wife- which almost hits NOTEBOOK levels of weepiness. Certainly, its not a great film, but its a good one- and worth seeing.