Moral dilemmas abound in this tepid treatment of plagiarism. Told in three intertwining tales, the central story begins with a young writer named Rory Johnson (Bradley Cooper), who like many talented authors remains unpublished despite being told he has a gift. He borrows money from dad to keep afloat himself and his new wife, Dora (Zoe Saldana), but the rejection slips keep piling up.
On a trip to Paris for their honeymoon (and here I thought they were flat broke) he finds an old leather satchel in an antique store. Back home he discovers a typewritten manuscript hidden in it that he soon recognizes as some of the best prose he’s ever read.
When Dora finds the word for word transcript Rory has typed into his computer, she naturally thinks it’s his own work and urges him to submit it to a book agent. What transpires is not just a best selling work of fiction, but a true phenomenon with Rory accumulating countless accolades for his masterpiece, “The Window Tears.”
It’s all a wonderful joy ride until an old man (Jeremy Irons in the nameless role) approaches Rory in the park one day and tells him the story of a young World War II soldier who falls in love with a French girl. But Rory knows this story already because it’s been published under his name.
To tie the two stories together there is a third narrative from Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) who appears at a book reading to read excerpts from his titular novel of which Rory is the central character. This storyline also involves a flirty scene or two with a young admirer played by Olivia Wilde. As confusing as all this may sound, it meshes together well enough to avoid derision, but don’t take that as an endorsement.
The World War II sequences in Paris are filmed in earthy tones that scream “flashback,” and though they are germane to the story, they come across as the most boring. And unfortunately, the devil is always in the details, such as how can these two poor newlyweds afford a nice trip to Paris? Or how does an experienced publisher not notice the difference in Rory’s writing style from book to book?
It’s these kinds of little slips in plot points that can nibble away at a story until the audience just loses faith in the process. “The Words” is full of little slips that Klugman and Sternthal (real life friends of Cooper’s who also executive produced the film) ask us to overlook in service to their true message, which has something to do with living a life without regret.
Regret seems to weigh on the minds of each of the central characters, but unfortunately they are so poorly written it’s hard to muster much sympathy even though Irons gives a great effort. And he’s joined by almost the entire cast in giving depth to some pretty silly dialog that sounds like it came from a romance novel.It’s hard to articulate what’s lacking in “The Words,” but in short — it’s the words.