An author (Dennis Quaid) approaches a podium before a packed house. He announces the title of the book he’s just written, “The Words,” and begins to read a passage. It relates the story of another author, Rory Jansen (Cooper). We meet Rory and his wife, Dora (Saldana) in the back of a limousine, celebrating the publishing of Rory’s book. Almost incredulous to the response at his work Rory tells Dora, “it was just a little book.”
Actually, it was a little book with a big back story. But that story gets jumbled up with the rest of the plot in the new film, “The Words.”
Basically a story told within a story told within a story (which sounds a lot like Joe Pesci in “JFK” lamenting “It’s a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma!”), “The Words” follows the life of a man who, against his better judgment, takes credit for a hidden manuscript he finds in an old briefcase and passes it off as his. Things go well for him until he is confronted by the “old man” (Irons) who claims authorship of the book. Things get confusing whenever Quaid appears as the audience is never sure if he is the real bogus author or if Cooper even exists. A flashback tale of love and loss only helps to confuse the story more.
Performance wise the film is also all over the map. Cooper really has nothing more to do here then stare off into space, the better to wrestle with his conscience. Quaid manages to show a little bit of his old fashioned charm, especially when trying to seduce an attractive fellow writer (Olivia Wilde). Saldana is solid as Dora as is J.K. Simmons, who has a small part as Rory’s father. The standout is Oscar winner Irons. His stories of the lives he led, both happy and tragic, are delivered with emotion and for that brief time you manage to get lost in the film. Unfortunately the time is, indeed, brief. Blame this on co-directors Klugman and Sternthal, who also shared the scripting duties here. The fact that the duo also shared writing credits with six other people on the latest “Tron” film only serves to make me want to avoid their third film!