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Review: 'The Words'

Jeremy Irons shines in an absorbing literary drama.

Whew!! Summer’s over. The kids back in school, time to put aside memories of all those God-awful sequels, prequels et al we’ve suffered through and settle down to some serious adult movie viewing. 

We are told to be grateful for small miracles, and so I viewed my cinematic glass as half-full for not being subject to a single explosion, car-chase, CGI effect or wife talking to husband while seated on the toilet (is that scene required now in every single Hollywood comedy?) in this so-called adult drama.

  • The Words is one of the movies playing this week at .

The Words is not terrible by any means. It’s also not all that good, despite a promising set-up and some very polished acting and directing. We’ve seen the story before in various guises and permutations from Ira Levin’s Deathtrap to Woody Allen’s more recent You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger: i.e. man writes novel, man loses novel, man finds novel, man claims the work as his own.  “There’s gold in them thar’ hills” to be mined anew. If only the writers of The Words were able to make this truly fresh, it would be the first must-see film of the fall season. Alas, ‘twas not meant to be. 

To their credit, screenwriters and directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal bring much skill and narrative know-how to their tale of high stakes, immoral, fame-seeking skullduggery among the glittering East coast literati set.

We open on a packed reading by writer Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) of his newest opus “The Words” in which the multi-layered story enacted in flashbacks on screen unfolds, and rather seamlessly I might add. Clay narrates the story of struggling writer Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper, fresh from this summer’s cartoonish Hit and Run nonsense) whose first two novels met with thundering rejection. While honeymooning in Paris with his gorgeous wife Dora (Zoë Saldana), he finds a battered leather briefcase at an antiques market and discovers years later an unopened compartment containing-voila! a literary masterpiece. 

Devouring the novel in an all-nighter in their Brooklyn apartment, Rory hesitates not one second before transcribing the work verbatim into his computer and feeling not a whit of guilt, submits the work as his own to the editor at the literary agency where he works as little more than a glorified mail boy.

Needless to say, Rory is the proverbial overnight wunderkind whose career skyrockets him to fame and fortune as his editor pushes for his next best-seller.

Ah-but there’s a price to be paid. Enter the “Old Man” (no given name) of Jeremy Irons who confronts Rory on a bench in Central Park and masterfully and ever so carefully reveals that he is indeed the author of the lost manuscript. Irons never fails to deliver a sterling performance and there’s no exception here. He engages in a masterful cat-and-mouse dance with the deceitful younger writer, yet never wants his just recognition from him,  financially or otherwise, seeming to exact revenge in the act of psychologically baiting Rory, breaking him of his spirit and therefore robbing him of any satisfaction from what he thought, up until now, was the “perfect” crime. 

Of course, the story begs the question of why Rory never even attempts to find the writer: was there no name on the manuscript, no way to see if the novel had indeed been published? Valid issues of plagiarism and identity-theft are raised and explored but never successfully resolved. A “what might have been” very good film instead leaves us wanting a bit more. 

Jeff Klayman is an award-winning playwright whose works have been produced in New York, Los Angeles and London. He also wrote the screenplay for the independent film Adios, Ernesto, directed by Mervyn Willis.


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