With several years of struggles and rejection letters to show for his work, Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) is at a career crossroads of sorts as an aspiring writer. He lives in NYC with his wife, Dora (Zoe Saldana), hoping to write the novel that will put his name on the literary map. Finally, Rory gets his chance. In a hidden panel of a briefcase he carries, Rory finds an unpublished story that is profound and perfect in its message. Wanting nothing more than to become a respected writer, Rory turns in the transcript as his own and fame and accolades follow. "His" novel opens all sorts of doors until one day, an old man (Jeremy Irons) confronts him, claiming the story is his own. What should, or can Rory do?
That's the most streamlined plot description I can come up with because for lack of a better description....this is a gimmick movie. It is actually a story within a story within a story. Confused much? Don't be, I'm making it more complicated than necessary. Rory's story though is actually that of a novel written by acclaimed novelist Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid), doing a reading of the story for a captive audience. As Clay reads the story, we see the story of Rory, Dora and the plagiarized novel. On top of that, we also get the Old Man's background, Irons explaining to Rory how his story came to be. Maybe gimmick isn't an appropriate description, but it's not enough you see a story like this. Confusing? No, not once you get in rhythm. A little odd? Yes, but acceptable as long as I kept reminding myself what was going on.
So with that gimmick, your enjoyment will come from how much you're willing to go along with that twisting story. The Quaid portion was the least interesting for me. His Hammond must deal with an adoring fan (Olivia Wilde) who knows everything about him, bordering on stalker territory. A minor issue here; Hammond's novel he reads from has the simplicity of a Dick and Jane story. 'Rory likes Dora...Rory and Dora move in together...Rory and Dora get married.' The Rory and Dora relationship is some familiar territory if predictable, but it's interesting to watch the moral dilemma develop in Rory's eyes. The highlight though in a too short late 1940s post WWII Paris is Irons' story of how he originally wrote his novel that Rory claims as his own.
Across the three stories though, the casting is solid to above average. Cooper is showing he can do a wide variety of roles -- drama, action, comedy -- and doesn't disappoint as the aspiring writer. What he does through his actions are despicable, but his head and heart start tearing away at him almost immediately. Saldana as the loving wife who wants what's best for her husband is well-cast as well. Quaid is acceptable in a workmanlike role that doesn't give him much to do while Wilde is subtle but more than a little creepy. Jeremy Irons as the unnamed Old Man is the highlight though, his deep, scratchy voice bringing the movie up a notch. Also look for J.K. Simmons as Rory's dad, Zeljko Ivanek as Rory's publisher/editor, Ben Barnes as Irons as a young man, and Nora Arnezeder as his wife, Celia.
Where 'Words' struggles some is the end. In a story about personal integrity, morals and ethics, how one bad decision can derail the lives of so many, of paying for that mistake or skating by, 'Words' doesn't how to end. It doesn't always know how to get there either. At just 96 minutes, the last 30 minutes drags as Rory decides what to do about his dilemma. There's also some twists and turns in the Quaid storyline, but it's an open-ended finale. Now all that said I enjoyed this movie, the story and the performances. It's refreshing to see a story-driven movie without a ton of sex, violence, drugs and explosions. Gotta take your chances when you can get them.
The Words <---trailer (2012): ***/****