The Words is a movie of many stories, of a story within a story within a story, of layers, each different from the next with varying degrees of quality, at times hypnotic, other times drawn out, well acted by some, horribly by others. It also has an ending so bad it's worth calling out in the opening paragraph of this movie review.
The Words stars Bradley Cooper as Rory Jansen, a struggling writer who finally makes it big when he discovers a long lost manuscript and claims it as his own. Only after success has brought him fame and fortune does he encounter an old man (Jeremy Irons), the original writer, who shares how the manuscript came to be lost in the first place and forces Rory to face his demons. But all of this is but a story, fiction written by a successful author (Dennis Quaid). Or is it?
The answer is pretty clear from the onset, though the ending leaves more for debate than the conclusion to Inception, if only because it's so ludicrously unfulfilling and stupid.
Up until the painful few minutes, however, The Words holds its own, if inconsistently so. The movie gets increasingly better as each layer of the onion is peeled away. Not unlike Inception, only completely different. The core story, featuring Cooper and Zoe Saldana, is well done and mildly compelling. Cooper turns in a fine performance, at least in the first couple acts, and Jeremy Irons is also good, though his winding speeches drag on after a while.
The Words is at its best deeper still, as the movie dives into the tragic source of the manuscript. The characters, played by Ben Barnes and Nora Arnezeder, are alluring, their scenes intoxicating and emotional, in no small part thanks to a moving score by Marcelo Zarvos.
But then there's the outer layer, and it is bad. Dennis Quaid and Olivia Wilde share dull scenes exchanging stilted dialogue, staring at each other like psychopaths (well, Wilde looks like she's going to go Fatal Attraction on him) and talking in vague sentences about what may or may not have happened in real life. It's as if these moments were, ironically, written by someone else, and the result is nearly ruinous, if not fully.
The ending makes The Words hard to recommend even if 95 percent of the film is generally good. In the climax, if it can be called that, Quaid and Wilde skirt around the elephant in the room, generating false tension, both sexual and otherwise. The chemistry between the two actors is nonexistent, but more importantly, the scene goes nowhere. Cooper and Zaldana reappear and chatter about something, and then the film fades out for good.
Confusion. Irritation. Shocked laughter. A few "what the f**ks".
Not a good way to end a movie, especially one that relies so heavily on its character arcs. The Words is good until it isn't, and when it isn't it really isn't.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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