The Words (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Words (2012)

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When you see Andy Warhol's famous paintings of a Campbell's Soup can, what are you seeing? A reproduction of a commercial object. Now: what is the difference between a can of Campbell's Soup and Andy Warhol's painting of Campbell's Soup? Surely the can is more practical, but the interpretation of the can-- the elevation of it to art-- is what makes Warhol's work interesting. That's why we know Warhol's name, and not the man who designed the ubiquitous can label.

That's, in a weird sort of way, what The Words is about. It's a movie about how a man's life refracts another man's, and what the consequences of that involve.

The man, Rory (Bradley Cooper), is a writer. Like all writers, he's handsome to a fault and wears sexy, fashionable clothing. (You can't see it right now, but I look exactly the same.) He also has a beautiful wife, Dora (Zoe Saldana), who supports him in his dream, even when he gets rejection after rejection.

"My book is bigger than your book."

During their honeymoon, however, Rory stumbles upon a typed manuscript in a long forgotten folio. He finds it to be moving... and disturbing. Because the story is better than anything he could ever write, he panics and goes comatose. In an attempt to understand it better, he types out the manuscript, and, due to a misunderstanding, he suddenly finds it in his best interest to portray the work as his. It soon becomes a bestseller, and things are complicated further with the arrival of the book's original author (Jeremy Irons).

This is told in the framework where Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) is reading the story as an excerpt of his new book, coincidentally also entitled The Words. And, yeah, Quaid's quaff of hair and display of charm handily illustrate that Clay and Rory are more than a little related. Clay delves into details for Daniella (Olivia Wilde) and the consequences of his choices are fully venerated.

This allows the move to quietly analyze how people simplify their lives into a narrative, even though real life is far too complicated for that. That's of course, ironic, for a narrative to try and address, but it still manages to point out the dangers of what happens when you categorically label yourself as your own protagonist.


If you're now 200 words into this film review and wondering why it's almost entirely art and literary theory, that's because those are the most interesting ways to approach The Words. As a drama, it's too rote to be of much interest, shot and edited in the most conventional ways possible. The film feels 'literary', from the plot construction to hackneyed character motivations that derive from nobility and an urge to make a point rather than flow from logic.

I could very well imagine this working far better as a book, and while it's certain that the attempt to turn this into a film was something someone felt was necessary, nothing feels particularly cinematic about its story. The 'Terrence Mallick glow' that's hastily applied to the flashback scenes set in the second World War to the rather clumsy and unexplored parallels it continually sets between Irons and Cooper grow more annoying than enlightening the longer they go on.

The most galling thing about the film is how it seems to believe the death of a child may be equal to a realization of creative bankruptcy, which seems like a very selfish thing for any filmmaker to assert. In spite of that, I will say it's an interesting movie, though that's despite the medium rather than to the benefit of it.

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Posted by Danny

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  1. Bradley is fine in the lead, but it’s Irons who steals this movie as soon as he has his 15 minutes of fame by the end. He’s easily the best thing about this movie and they sort of treat him like an old-joke. Nice review Danny.

    • Irons practically grabbed the movie and shook it violently. It’s too bad his entire role consisted of sitting on benches and narrating flashbacks, but what can ya do.

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