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Although it appears to be an honest effort and a carefully planned directorial debut for Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, The Words is much less interesting than it realizes. Klugman's recently bankable buddy, Bradley Cooper, stars and helped get the film made, and actors Dennis Quaid, Zoe Saldana, Olivia Wilde and Jeremy Irons do their best with the ho-hum material. Cooper plays a struggling writer who, in a moment of ecstatic desperation, publishes a manuscript he finds in a vintage briefcase as his own work. The real author finds out, and comes to challenge Cooper's character on his ethics. It's unclear whether the filmmakers wanted this to be a twisty moral thriller or a rumination on what makes a man, but either way, The Words isn't very successful. The film skips along unremarkably until its rushed, obvious conclusion, which left me asking, "That's It?".
As a recent graduate I can sympathize with Cooper's Rory Jansen. Finding permanent employment and earning a steady paycheck is difficult. Jansen is tired of asking his dad for cash and odd jobs, and his beautiful wife Daniella (Saldana) deserves better. She buys Jansen a vintage briefcase in Paris, and inside is a fascinating manuscript about a young U.S. soldier stationed in France during World War II. The writing is beautiful, the drama gripping. Good people do stupid things, especially when they don't think they'll get caught. So, Jansen publishes it and gets rich and famous. An old man (Irons) approaches Jansen one day at a park, and reveals the implications of Jansen's deception.
The Words might have unspooled better as a book, or at least that's the vibe I think its directors were trying to evoke. The film is basically the soft rock of the silver screen; it's neither offensive nor memorable. The film's three pieces - Jansen's story, the WWII section anchored by Barnes, and bookends with a burnt-out author played by weary Quaid - fit together, but they do so in a way that is both underwhelming and instantly identifiable. As such, any thrills promised in the overly dramatic trailer are absent. The Paris action is most appealing, as it at least provides some emotional spark to the otherwise tepid film.
A lot of virtues are debated in The Words, and Jansen violates both his profession's ethics and his wife's trust. Cooper gets to play both a sleaze and a man seeking redemption - he does so well - but the script isn't exactly forgiving. Barnes' character chooses success over love, which proves a fatal mistake. Quaid's jaded author is inexplicably pursued by a foxy Wilde in a story that I was sure was going somewhere important. It never does. At no point is all this drama nearly as significant as The Words puts on; it's all just cable-television, drama-lite fluff.
No surprise here, Sony's 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer looks great. Detail is excellent in this rich, deep image, which sports gorgeous blacks and natural skin tones. Colors are deep and nicely saturated, and I noticed no banding or artifacts.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack suits the material, and features nice element separation and clarity. Dialogue is perfectly audible, and light effects and ambience make use of the surround speakers. The score is weighty, and the subwoofer comes alive on occasion to support atmospheric percussion. English, English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release comes in an Elite Blu-ray case with two-sided artwork. The Blu-ray includes both the theatrical cut (1:37:09) and an extended special edition (1:42:41). This hit theaters as a PG-13, and the extended cut adds a bit of profanity. Sony includes an UltraViolet digital copy, but the extras are underwhelming. It's worth watching Unabridged: A Look Behind the Scenes of The Words (8:30/HD), as the filmmakers and Cooper reveal the project's genesis. The other three featurettes - A Gentleman's Agreement (1:44/HD); Clay and Daniella (1:12/HD); and The Young Man and Celia (1:09/HD) - are short and pointless.
Bradley Cooper recently remarked that The Words "disappointed." He probably meant financially, but this tepid drama, which Cooper helped buddy Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal get made, is undercooked. Cooper plays a struggling writer who publishes a manuscript he finds in a briefcase as his own to serious consequences. All the soul searching and rediscovering what's important for each character grows tiresome, and the film's grab-bag cast of talent, including Zoe Saldana and Dennis Quaid, is underused. Skip It.
William lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.