The Words *
Sometimes you can be flabbergasted when very good actors are in very bad films. Then you remember: no-one sets out to make a bad movie. They just turn out that way. But, seriously, there’s no way that the script of The Words could have appeared good to anyone, could it?
Maybe. Maybe it’s simply the direction that is utterly, utterly wrong with this incredibly slow, mind-numbingly misjudged tale of literary ethics. It’s the feature film debut for its two writer-directors, Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, and it makes all the mistakes a first film can: the music is absurdly over-the-top, every scene is over-lit so that absolutely none of the sets look remotely natural, and the actors are encouraged to ham it up – that, or they simply weren’t given any direction and didn’t know how to play their (very poorly written) scenes.
It’s a relief to discover that the very fine actor Bradley Cooper is old friends with Klugman and Sternthal, because otherwise you’d very strongly have to question his judgement in accepting this film at this point in his career, which is trending straight up. His role is thankless. He plays a character in a book written by Dennis Quaid’s Clay Hammond, a highly successful author of literary fiction. Essentially, the story is this: Clay reads two chapters from his latest book to an appreciative New York audience, then takes a hot girl home to his groovy pad and tells her how the book ends. We see Cooper, Zoe Saldana and Jeremy Irons play the main characters of the book, as Clay reads and subsequently explains it.
You know you’re in trouble the moment Clay starts reading, because the book he is reading is supposed to be really good, but, in reality, it’s dreadful. Really, really bad. So you’ve got a film that hinges on one massive prop – a supposedly brilliant novel – and the novel is terribly written. It’s very hard to recover from that.
Jeremy Irons plays a ninety-year-old character in the book and it simply doesn’t work. His age make-up (which seems to come and go) doesn’t work. Irons has developed a weird trans-atlantic accent of late (see also Margin Call) and it’s a shame, because his natural voice was so beautiful. Oh well. He certainly left that at home, along with his A-Game, because his age work here is simply embarrassing.
Dennis Quaid cops it worse. He bobs and weaves manically, as though no-one told him he was in close-up (which he is nearly the whole time he’s on screen). When an actor is over-acting this much (and when you bob and weave that much in close-up it simply becomes horribly annoying) you have to assume they don’t get the material, and aren’t being helped to get it either. Seriously, Quaid is a good actor. Just not in this film.
Zoe Saldana (again, playing a character in a book) and Olivia Wilde, as a predatory graduate student and aspiring author who really wants to get into Clay’s pants, fare better, if only because sit still and say their lines without over-doing the whole thing like the others. And there is a brilliant supporting cast in small roles: J.K. Simmons (who works surprisingly well as Cooper’s father), Michael McKean (in a tiny role), Zeljko Ivanek and Ron Rifkin.
As for Cooper, he does his honest best. But he’s not only saddled with playing a character in a book, he’s unsympathetic, whiny, self-serving and essentially unbelievable. A hard task for anyone. I suspect The Words will languish low on his, and the other fine actors involved in this horrible misfire, CVs. Mawkish and self-important, The Words is predictable, non-sensical, and terribly boring. Avoid.