As a writer, I know firsthand how difficult and frustrating the profession can be...the endless solitary hours working in a vacuum, the constant search for fresh ideas and resonating themes, the crippling self-doubt, the struggle for support and recognition, and the enticing allure of success. But even at my lowest ebb, would I ever remotely entertain the idea of passing someone else's work off as my own, even if the prose came from an unknown source and was innocently mistaken for mine? As I watched 'The Words,' I soberly pondered such a question, and can honestly say I would never be capable of stooping to such a reprehensible level, nor could I imagine any self-respecting writer with a shred of integrity doing such a thing, especially one as likeable, seemingly sensitive, and passionate about his trade as Rory Jansen, the main character in Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal's tightly - and tritely - constructed drama. Though Klugman and Sternthal, who also wrote the screenplay for 'The Words,' make a convincing case as to how such a shameful situation could spiral out of control, I still struggled to swallow the premise and digest the resulting conflicts. Everything just seemed too neat and tidy for such a messy string of events.
Like many writers, Rory (Bradley Cooper) at first attacks his chosen vocation with vigor, but as time passes and fame remains elusive, his work ethic wanes and a measure of depression sets in. His devoted (and gorgeous) wife Dora (Zoe Saldana) senses this ennui, but can't seem to rekindle his creative flame. Quite by chance, Rory discovers an old manuscript in a hidden compartment of a weathered briefcase that Dora bought at a thrift shop. The words on the yellowed pages captivate and haunt him. He's bowled over by their lyricism and depth of meaning, and sadly comes to the devastating realization his own talent is miniscule by comparison. His obsession with the anonymous tome leads him to type the entire novel into his computer, where Dora happens upon it, hungrily devours every syllable, and assumes it to be her husband's latest (and greatest) endeavor. Her unbridled enthusiasm preempts Rory from revealing the truth, and when his agent becomes apoplectic with glee over the potential prospects of this richly textured opus, the die is cast, and Rory embraces both his impending role as bestselling author and all the spoils that come with it.
Charades, however, are always difficult to maintain, and when a mysterious old man (Jeremy Irons) suddenly accosts Rory and shares with him his tragic tale of woe, Rory's perfect universe falls off its axis, and his image, marriage, and sense of self all teeter on the brink of destruction. And in another (seemingly unrelated) story, a successful author (Dennis Quaid) tells Rory's tale to a throng of admirers, and ends up dallying with a starry-eyed fan (Olivia Wilde) intent on unlocking his cryptic secrets.
'The Words' is cleverly structured like a three-act play, with the first act focusing on Rory's travails and his relationship with Dora; the second on the old man's harrowing backstory during World War II; and the third on the middle-aged author's flirtation with a comely fan who drives him to the brink of confession. The requisite twist ending, which isn't too difficult to foresee, comes neatly tied with a bow, and somewhat cheapens the preceding drama, making it all seem like a carefully mounted gimmick. Though there are plenty of fine moments in 'The Words,' the whole never adds up to the sum of its parts, despite the valiant efforts of its top-flight cast.
All the actors bring their A game, with Irons an especially strong standout, but they have trouble rising above the material's inherent banality. Obsession with ambition and egotism to the exclusion of love, relationships, and personal equilibrium is a well-worn theme, and 'The Words' brings nothing new to the table. Though, much to its credit, it incorporates elements from a real-life incident involving Ernest Hemingway, the screenplay, much to its detriment, insists on embracing clichés and incorporating hackneyed bits of dialogue. It's almost painful to hear an actor of Irons' stature utter lines like, "We all make our choices in life; the hard part is living with them." 'The Words' is full of moments of pseudo profundity, and they more than try our patience over time.
'The Words' will surely satisfy those who enjoy a good tale with a hint of mystery. It's nicely directed, modestly engrossing, well acted, and flaunts a good mix of honest emotion, humor, irony, romance, and melodrama. But for those looking for meaning behind the words, disappointment looms. A film with a title like 'The Words' carries with it a responsibility to deliver some weight and complexity, but there's not much substance here. Sadly, these words are largely empty.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Words' arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Inside, a leaflet containing instructions for the Ultraviolet Digital Copy download is included. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Once the disc is inserted into the player, a Blu-ray promo piece, followed by trailers for 'Seven Psychopaths,' 'Robot & Frank,' and 'Now Is Good,' precede the full-motion menu with music.
'The Words' comes equipped with an attractive but far from dazzling 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer. Clarity and contrast are both quite good, lending the image an easygoing viewability, but a lack of vibrancy and razor sharpness keep it from achieving the wow factor that distinguish the best transfers. Hints of grain provide a welcome film-like feel and add texture to the intimate story. Interiors can look a bit drab at times, but exteriors sport a warm lushness. Green foliage is especially well rendered, and various red accents also come across well. Black levels exude a pleasing richness and whites are well defined and resist blooming, while fleshtones look natural and remain stable throughout.
Close-ups exhibit plenty of crisp details, from Cooper's omnipresent stubble to Irons' leathery wrinkles, shadow delineation is fine, and background elements are discernible enough. The pristine print also yields no signs of wear, and no banding, noise, or other imperfections could be detected. All in all, this is a good transfer and just what one should expect from a recent film release. Nothing more, nothing less.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track supplies solid sound that complements the action without overwhelming it. A fair amount of subtle surround activity augments the atmosphere of various scenes, enhancing the cityscape and adding punch to crowd sequences, but true directional action is nonexistent. Some nice stereo separation enlivens the front channels, and a wide dynamic scale allows the audio free rein without risk of distortion. A few low-end rumbles give the subwoofer a bit of exercise, and accents such as footsteps and door slams are crisp and distinct, but there's not a lot of opportunity for sonic show on this track.
If you name your film 'The Words,' it's a given that dialogue is the star attraction, and I'm happy to report that all conversations and voice-over narration are clear and easily comprehendible, whether uttered in hushed tones or exclaimed in anguish. The understated music score by Marcelo Zarvos also impresses, filling the room well and distinguished by fine fidelity and tonal depth.
'The Words' soundtrack won't blow you away, but its unobtrusive nature serves this quiet drama well.
Just a couple of negligible extras complement this release.
'The Words' is a middle-of-the-road ensemble piece that gels on the surface, but is ultimately trite and forgettable. A top-notch cast led by Bradley Cooper and the always riveting Jeremy Irons tries to elevate the material beyond the mundane, but only modestly succeeds. It's definitely worth a rental for drama aficionados, as long as expectations are kept in check, but purchases should be the exclusive domain of diehard Cooper fans (like my daughter). This Blu-ray features video and audio commensurate with recent theatrical releases, but extras are thin and fluffy.