Lowdown: A writer who stole someone else’s book to make his name with confronts the true author.
It is no big secret that I have a lot against the concept commonly known as “copyright” and the industry behind it. I very much oppose that industry and I will gladly argue against some of the core ideas it claims to stand for. However, one thing I will not dispute is the need for a basic sense of copyright: we need copyrights because having someone claim that a book I wrote is actually theirs is unacceptable. In other words, plagiarism is generally unacceptable, probably because none of us like being misled. On the other hand, hardly any of the ideas popping up in our heads are truly our own; as Newton claimed when he himself was accused of plagiarism, we are all standing on the shoulders of giants. That is the whole meaning of civilization.
This was but one of the thoughts that went through my head as I watched The Words, a movie with plagiarism at the center of its tale but with many more ideas and themes around it.
We start the story rolling with a writer, Hammond (Dennis Quaid), reading excerpts from his new book aloud before a crowd of anticipating fans. Hammond’s readings, the story of Rory (Bradley Cooper) and Dora (Zoe Saldana), is portrayed to us viewers as a story inside a story; as it happens, this is where we will be spending most our hour and a half plus with. [Let us pause for a minute to cheer for a film that dares break a good old American taboo and dares casting a white/black couple!] Our fictional young and loving New York couple is at the stage of their lives where they seek to establish their careers, particularly Rory with his writing aspirations. Only that Rory, despite all the sacrifices he makes, does not seem to get a break; instead of fulfilling himself he finds himself running errands at the offices of a publishing company. That, I guess, is the price one pays for chasing dreams.
Luck strikes when Rory discovers someone else’s book in an antique bag the couple got during their Paris honeymoon. This story of post war Paris is, unlike Rory’s, an excellent one. Rory gives it to his office boss and forgets all about it; months later the book is discovered by an agent, quickly published, and Rory becomes the next J.K. Rowling. One problem remains, though: he did not write the book; and worse, this old man that follows him (Jeremy Irons) seems to know his secret, a secret he even kept from Dora. Life as Rory knows it is about to turn rather shaky.
As films go, The Word is one of those artistic and deep adventures. The Inception style clever telling of a story inside a story inside a story is interesting and touching. Then there are the thought proviking messages The Words is trying to make us ponder about: not only the relatively straight matter of plagiarism, but also the whole civilization at work habit of people copying one another; the question of living a lie; and the matter of being able to forgive, forget, and move on with life after a mistake has been made.
All of the above, coupled with marvellous acting – Cooper has more to offer than a pretty face, but it was Irons that mesmerized me – make for a wonderful, well made film. It’s a pity, though, that The Words feels a bit overstretched, as if the directors thought they need to fill up more time and make their work longer in order to gain appreciation for their effort.
Best personal scene:
The story of the young old man (Ben Barnes) coming back to his USA home from Paris after the war to find it smaller than he remembered. Indeed, too small to bear. A short while later he decides to go back to where he belongs.
This story reminded me of someone I know personally. This Israeli visited Australia for a relatively short visit, but upon returning to his old home he realized he returned to the wrong place. Within two weeks he started working on his permanent return to Australia.
Best cinematic scene:
The encounter between Cooper and Irons is very well done, especially the earlier parts of it (the whole encounter takes up an entire act).
Overall: This is quality cinema, but it was also just too slow for my liking; it felt as if the directors wanted to make sure we know this is high quality, thus producing the opposite effect instead. I wanted to love this but here and there I felt compelled to check my watch; here and there we had the occasional yawn. Thus The Words ends up receiving "only" 3.5 out of 5 stars.