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film review: the words

The Words is based on an excellent premise. If you were a fledgling writer (although artist, musician or another job could also be added here) what would you do if you were unsuccessful at your craft? If you had spent years lovingly working away at things and were faced with a constant stream of rejection, what would you do next? Would you take the easy way out and allow personal ambition to cloud your judgment and enable yourself to justify stealing somebody else’s work and passing it off as your own?

This film is a layered drama that follows this very story. Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) spends years writing what he thinks is his magnum opus. Except it isn’t. He is rejected by countless publishers and is upset when he can’t get a break doing the job he loves. But after reaching rock bottom he just happens to discover an old manuscript hidden in his newly acquired briefcase. This one contains an amazing story and he soon finds himself copying it out in full.

The idea for the plot is an excellent one. We follow what happens next to Jansen, as his book is a resounding success and he does eventually go on publish his own manuscript. But deep down he knows that people are only reading his work because of the success of the first book. Eventually he has to confront the original author (Jeremy Irons). The latter is a frustrated old man who feels like he has been robbed of his life, as the lost manuscript was actually an autobiographical one.

The Words is full of different threads as stories are told and recounted and the flashbacks are interwoven to eventually come together rather well. But there is also an over-reliance on voiceover and these eventually hinder the actual storytelling that should be taking place on the screen. As a result it often feels like this meaty and clever tale is being dumbed down and spoon-fed to the audience. It’s a real shame as the proceedings do force you to question and think in much the same way as the morality tale, Doubt did. It also means you could imagine this would make a great book, although the film is wanting.

Another pitfall in The Words is that things often feel contrived or at least clichéd. The Hollywood brush has been applied and this often means that more questions are posed than answers. At worst it means that some of the narratives should have been told in greater detail, while others could have been omitted completely. But the solid acting performances and the winning idea mean the audience will become emotionally invested in the characters, but the result would have been stronger had they all come across as richer and more vivid people.

The dialogue also could have been tightened. There is a lot of discussion and intellectualising about the importance of writing and how the written word is paramount. Yet this idea seems to have been lost on the screenwriters. Too often it feels like the entire story is coming from the pen of just one author, despite there being multiple people involved.

The Words is a fascinating idea and a slow-burning drama that is full of nuances, thoughts and layers. But this exciting premise is plagued by multiple problems in the execution. There is no doubt that you’ll be left wanting less voiceover pieces, more visual storytelling, more art and a greater fleshing out of the characters. They are after all, the lifeblood of the film and such wonderfully complex and human ones.

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