Bradley Cooper and Zoë Saldana star in “The Words.” Photo by Jonathan Wenk
Arts Old - DO NOT USE - The Coast News Rancho Santa Fe

Film Review: The power of ‘The Words’ lies in the eyes

The power of words takes an eloquent approach to-destruction in “The Words,” never holding back in conveying the pain of losing the one treasure you appreciate with all your heart and somebody stealing it by pressing a few well-chosen keys on the keyboard. 

Anything that gets submitted into or premieres at the Sundance Film Festival is pretty much an automatic “see it” for me.

Though I have yet to actually attend and experience the Utah-based independent film festival, I have not forgotten the titles that piqued my interest in the first place. “El Mariachi,” “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Memento,” “Reservoir Dogs,” and “Like Crazy” enabled me to see an artistically refreshing dimension to film that did not revolve around blockbusters.

I still consider myself a rookie when it comes to understanding the nuts and bolts of independent cinema, but I am grateful my eyes have been opened to this exciting alternative territory.

“The Words” emerges as a triumphant example of aesthetic creativity and dramatic humanism that most big-budget productions lack in this day and age.

The film stars Bradley Cooper as a struggling writer, who finally achieves the success he has sought for so long after publishing a literary masterpiece.

But what the public and his wife Dora (Zoe Saldana) are unaware of is that the book is not really his — he discovered a lost manuscript while vacationing in Paris, ultimately claiming the work as his own.

Upon meeting the original writer (Jeremy Irons), Jansen finds himself facing the consequences of his actions, even as his ambition to become an exceptional writer comes into conflict with his moral compass.

“Pure gold” are the two words I would use to describe this film. A fitting, yet ironic description, I should say, considering the protagonist’s success comes at a great cost to both himself and the person from whom he stole the idea. A cost we recognize when looking into the eyes of the individual before us.

Directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal’s use of close-ups enable the audience to not only see the pain in a character’s visage, but also comprehend what will eventually happen as a result of someone else’s actions. Thankfully, this does not apply solely to the conversations shared between Cooper and Irons; the other supporting cast members get their chance to express what it means to feel robbed of integrity and to have trust betrayed by a person you thought you knew. The gradual process of destruction that transpires in the film never fails to make its presence known; every word spoken or heard fulfills its purpose bit by bit in each camera shot.

I should also congratulate “The Words” on balancing the present-day narrative with the flashbacks.

As difficult as it may be to coincide two storylines from different time periods this film handles the matter with the simplicity of figuring out what works and what does not work in a piece of writing.

And I was amazed at seeing just how much Cooper’s contemporary dilemma resembled Irons’ story about the Young Man. To display such resemblances between two different persons is an excellent means of deepening the sense of deceit even further.

As far as casting choices go, this film could not have triumphed had the actors and actresses been different from the ones selected for the production. Bradley Cooper succeeds in filling the shoes of the ambitious yet remorseful protagonist; I could tell just by his facial expressions that his character was crushed by the fact that he stole another person’s work, haunted that he could not find a means of escape from this no-win situation. Zoe Saldana sheds her action heroine trappings and steps into the dramatic field as if she had just been there yesterday.

The true standout, however, is Jeremy Irons, whose outstanding performance as the Old Man brings to mind that any kind of tragedy can affect a person in more ways than one.

Ben Barnes lives up to the challenge of embodying the Young Man, capturing the good and bad memories that defined his outlook on life with flying colors.

Nora Arnezeder has her fair share of memorable moments as Celia, the beautiful Frenchwoman with whom Barnes falls in love.

Dennis Quaid’s turn as Clay Hammond proves there is still potential in him to be a good actor despite having appeared in a handful of terrible films over the past several years. Olivia Wilde finds solid ground to walk on following her departure from the TV series “House.”

If there is a film to see before this year reaches its end, I highly recommend “The Words.”

4 out of 4

Where: Wide Release
When: Now playing
Run time: 1 hour 36 minutes
Rating: PG-13