The Words Movie Review
Like a Russian nesting doll, this film tells a story within a story within another story, playing around with fact and fiction, as well as the nature of creative inspiration and integrity. These themes are thoroughly engaging, although the film has a nagging familiarity to it because of its cliched story elements. And the structure prevents us from getting properly involved in any of the three story strands.
The main narrator is Clay (Quaid), who is reading from his book The Words, which tells the story of writer Rory (Cooper) and his wife Dora (Saldana), who struggled for five years before his first novel was published to rapturous acclaim from both critics and the public. But out of the shadows emerges an old man (Irons) who knows Rory's secret: he found the manuscript for the novel in a briefcase he bought in a Paris junk shop, then passed it off as his own. So the old man in turn tells Rory his own story, about when he was a younger man (Barnes) in Paris married to a French waitress (Arnezeder).
The layered storytelling lets filmmakers explore quite a few big issues, from the way most novels are based on elements from the writers' lives to the ruthlessness of the publishing industry, in which even the most talented authors struggle to earn a living. But of course, most of the characters in the film are fictional, so we never become very invested in their situations. And the only "real" person is Quaid's cocky, leery Clay, who's engaged in squirm-inducing flirtation with a grad student (Wilde) who stalks him.
Rory's story is the most interesting, simply because it deals with a proper ethical dilemma and is so well-played by Cooper and Irons. But when it shifts into the extended flashback of a romanticised 1940s Paris, we begin to lose interest in the whole movie. Still, the filmmakers have a strong visual eye, and bring all of the elements together for a somewhat overwrought finale. We may be intrigued along the way, but in the end we also feel like we've been manipulated by all of these fake characters and situations.