'The Words': What the Critics Are Saying

3:12 PM PST 09/07/2012 by Joshua Stecker

The co-directorial debut of Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal leaves critics hardly at a loss for words about the film's dodgy plotholes.

Bradley Cooper stars as a writer facing the moral and ethical dilemma of plagiarizing another man's work in his latest film, The Words. The film, co-directed and co-written by childhood pals Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, opens in theaters on Friday, September 7.

Cooper plays Rory Jansen, a struggling author who stumbles upon a briefcase with a manuscript hidden inside while on his honeymoon in Italy. Desperate for success, Jansen publishes the manuscript as his own. The book is a commercial and critical success, but also reveals a plethora of ethical and moral challenges. The cast includes Dennis Quaid, Jeremy Irons, Zoe Saldana and Olivia Wilde.

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The Words currently holds a score of 18 percent on RottenTomatoes.

Read below for some of the reviews from top critics:

The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy wrote from Sundance that The Words is "a lushly appointed, high-minded melodrama with surface seductions that are offset by some elemental missteps."

McCarthy adds: "Whatever its gaps and flaws, The Words is teasingly involving from a narrative point of view, and English grads with dreamy notions of Paris as the place to be a young, talented, starving artist will easily capitulate."

Betsy Sharkey from the Los Angeles Times calls the movie "a snooze," adding, "Like a bedtime story for adults, much of the film is framed by scenes of wildly popular author Clay Hammond (Quaid) as he reads excerpts from his latest bestseller, titled The Words. Even with all the intrigues we discover within those very literate pages, and with Quaid's dramatic baritone trying to elevate it, the movie still feels like a glorified books-on-tape (no disrespect, just a different medium)."

Sharkey also says, "The Words tries too hard to be smart with its highbrow take on the old 'gotcha' theme. It is gorgeously shot to look highbrow as well; in that it succeeds."

As for Cooper's performance, she writes, "Too often the actor seems to have lost his way, not completely convinced he can be a writer anymore than Rory is; all the confidence he gave the morally tested writer in last year's Limitless has gone missing."

The New York Times' Stephen Holden says the film “Is a clever, entertaining yarn that doesn’t bear close scrutiny. Even superficial examination of this film reveals myriad flaws, despite a compelling performance by Jeremy Irons as a fictional writer in a book also called The Words."

Holden concludes, "One of the many questions it conjures is whether the screenplay’s ham-handedness is a deliberate attempt to illustrate Clay’s mediocrity. But to assume so, I think, would be to give too much credit to a film that is ultimately less interested in morality and ethics than in maintaining suspense by any means necessary."

Vulture's David Edelstein doesn't mince words, saying, "The famous writer is played by Dennis Quaid, who’s never convincing as a brain, the dishy grad student by Olivia Wilde, who’s never convincing as a human."

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Meanwhile, Claudia Puig from USA Today writes, "Writer/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal chose to make The Words as bland and obvious as its title, wringing out any subtlety or artistry."

Puig adds: "As the tale unwinds, dialogue is clichéd, the musical score overpowers, and moments meant to be surprises are either telegraphed or overplayed, as if the filmmakers didn't trust the audience to get it."

CNN's Tom Charity writes, "Resembling nothing so much as one of those hermetic Woody Allen comedies about self-absorbed intelligentsia, only without the comedy, The Words lays its bookish credentials on thick but rarely feels honest or true."

On Irons' performance, Charity adds, "Irons overdoes the hunched old man theatrics and can't keep his accent in check but still manages to suggest nuances and knowledge well beyond the scope of anybody else on screen. A scene in which he teases out a yarn -- part confession, part accusation -- on a park bench is a little master class in timing and tonal variation, like watching an expert fly-fisherman reel in the catch of the day."

Finally, IndieWire's Leonard Maltin says, "There’s a compelling idea at the core of The Words, especially as acted out by Bradley Cooper and the incomparable Jeremy Irons, but it’s nearly extinguished by the material that surrounds it, sorry to say."

Maltin also points out that "the illogical events that ensue conspire to sink the film. (How does Cooper later track down the stranger without ever learning his name?) And the subplot involving Quaid and a persistent Olivia Wilde only add clutter to the narrative."

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