Monday, September 10, 2012


 "TRON: Legacy" writers Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal have written and directed their first film together about the controversial issue of plagiarism. "The Words" (** OUT OF ****) qualifies as an initially provocative but ultimately anti-climatic melodrama about purloined prose. This loquacious, 96-minute, PG-13-rated film shuns physical action so it shares little in common with the traditional end-of-the-summer blockbusters. You won't find any careening car chases, white-knuckled fistfights, and sensational shoot-outs in this contemplative morality play. The first half of "The Words" is deliciously audacious, but Klugman and Sternthal undercut everything  afterward with a devastating revelation. The main characters that Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Irons incarnate aren't real people! Instead, Cooper and Irons embody nobody characters in a story that another character has created. After this stunning surprise, "The Words" unravels as a second-rate story-within-a-story. Basically, this is a soap opera about another soap opera with losers who have struggled against formidable odds to fail miserably. Mind you, the tragic characters that Cooper and Irons portray are sympathetic in several respects. Nevertheless, the resolution to their conflict lacks dramatic impact. After our protagonist admits that he has appropriated another man's words, nothing happens that truly tops his confession that he ripped off another man’s verbiage. Ironically, the real author never receives credit because too many other people would suffer undue hardship. Meantime, the actual author who created these woebegone characters—played by Dennis Quaid--emerges as far less complicated than his own characters. Had Klugman and Sternthal jettisoned the framing device of a narrator, this could have been a better film.  The problem that the two filmmakers never deal with satisfactorily is the overwhelming inertia of their narrative.  This is a very dull movie about characters that don’t have a shred of charisma. "The Words" boasts solid performances by an attractive cast featuring John Hannah, Olivia Wilde, J.K. Simmons, Ron Rifkin, Michael McKean, Zoë Saldana, and Liz Stauber.

Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper of “The A-Team”) dreams about writing the great American novel.  The problem is that he is living on next to nothing in New York City and his genius had taken him nowhere. Rory persuades his reluctant father (J.K. Simmons of “Contraband”) to foot his bills while he forges his literature.  This movie should have been released on Father’s Day, because Simmons plays a father who is worth his salt. Eventually, Rory is called into an agent’s office. The agent commends him for writing a wonderful novel, but he describes Rory’s book as too “interior.” Rory decides to take a job at a publishing house where he supervises the distribution of mail and manuscripts to agents.  One day Rory pulls out a frayed leather satchel that his wife, Dora (Zoë Saldana of “Avatar”), brought for him from a Parisian antique shop after they had visited Ernst Hemingway’s apartment.  Years later, Rory discovers an anonymous manuscript on yellowed typing paper in a concealed compartment of the satchel.  He reads it and admires what he peruses.  

 Essentially, the novel is a melodramatic tearjerker set in Europe about an American soldier (Ben Barnes of “Dorian Gray”) and a French waitress Celia (Nora Arnezeder of “Safe House”) who fall in love near the end of World War II.  The man who penned it was living in Paris, and he entrusted the manuscript to his girlfriend.  Unfortunately, she left it accidentally behind in a storage compartment aboard her seat on the train.  The author never recovered his manuscript until he read the story published under Rory’s name.  Naturally, Rory is floored by this revelation.  Consider Rory’s defense.  He read the novel and felt that if he could transcribe it to his computer that he might catch the magic of the author’s prose so that it might improve his own writing.  Rory doesn’t change so much as a single mark of punctuation.  He hands it to an agent at the publishing house, Joseph Cutler (Zeljko Ivanek of “The Bourne Legacy”), and Cutler loves it.  The novel proves to be a sensational bestseller.  One day while he is spending time alone in Central Park, Rory meets the elderly gentleman who wrote the manuscript.  Imagine Rory’s shock at being busted for plagiarism. The old man (Jeremy Irons of “Die Hard with a Vengeance”) tells Rory everything that he remembers about his story.  The shock sets in, and Rory finds himself trapped in a minefield of moral repercussions. Rory is no villain, and he is fully prepared to expose himself for the plagiarist that he is, but everybody advises him against making any foolish decisions that may jeopardize his career!  During all this rigmarole, Rory and Dora squabble because she feels that he has not been truthful to her.

After the third act, “The Words” coasts gently without surprise to its lackluster finale.  The last part of the action concerns bestselling author, Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid of “Footloose”), once he concludes his public appearance where he read selections from his novel “The Words” about Rory’s plight.  Clay’s agent Richard Ford (John Hannah of “Four Weddings and the Funeral”) introduces him to a Columbia graduate school, Daniella (Olivia Wilde of “Cowboys and Aliens”), who wants to interview him.  She demands to know more than Ford has shared with anybody about Rory’s fate.  By this time, fatigue has set in and “The Words” concludes feebly with neither striking insights nor spiraling revelations.  

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