“Don’t you know words ruin everything?” So says Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid), the author of a new book detailing the rise of a successful writer who publishes another man’s manuscript as his own in the new drama “The Words.”
Both story lines intertwine in this forgettable tale about ethics, success and the power of writing.
Screenwriters Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal create two disparate worlds that ultimately come together in the film. The first world is the one belonging to Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), a wannabe novelist with a patient girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) and a generous father (J.K. Simmons). After settling into a job as a mail deliverer at a publishing house, Jansen marries his girlfriend and the two visit Paris where Jansen discovers a fully fleshed-out manuscript.
Recognizing his own weaknesses as a writer, Jansen sells the manuscript and the book becomes a critical and commercial success. That manuscript, however, was written by an old man (Jeremy Irons) – referred to in the movie simply as “The Old Man” – who wants Jansen to know the truth about the stolen story.
In the second world of the film, Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) is a successful writer who has written about Jansen’s exploits. He reads an excerpt from his book in a crowded lecture hall. In this world, a young woman named Daniella (Olivia Wilde) is intrigued by the story and cozies up to Hammond to learn more about what happened to Jansen.
By the time the two worlds intersect the story concepts have fallen apart.
One of problems in “The Words” is its design. Jansen’s story is intriguing enough – at least in the beginning – to merit the audience’s attention, so the Hammond story seems like an unnecessary side path for much of the film.
Ultimately, though, the Jansen story goes nowhere, concluding with a dismal thud. One would think that Jansen’s interactions with the Old Man would yield something poignant and powerful. Instead, they lead to a climax that lacks both heart and value.
The screenwriters take moviegoers to a fork in the road and then decide to take a nap in the middle of the street.
With a runtime of roughly 96 minutes, one would also think that the film would be a breezy escape. Instead, the story drags on so tediously that the movie feels like it clocks in at over two hours.
“The Words” doesn’t seem to know where it wants to go, so it meanders around aimlessly hoping for a writer – anyone, really – to dictate its path.
One prime example of this is when the Old Man tells Jansen his own back story about writing the book and his travails in Paris. The flashback focuses on him as a young man (played by Ben Barnes) after the war as he settles into a new marriage and finds hope and tragedy overseas. But it goes on endlessly with little vindication.
There is something to be said about a story that doesn’t make easy decisions or provide simple answers to provocative inquires. “The Words,” by comparison, doesn’t make any decisions at all. These words turn out to be empty at best and valueless at worst.
In case you haven’t heard, “words ruin everything.” At least they do in this movie.