What is truth and what is fiction?
Do the two ever touch?
How do you tell?
These are some of the riddles worth solving in “The Words,” a haunting story of love, loss, truth and lies. It will leave you wondering what happened and who is telling the real story.
“The Words” opens with best-selling author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) reading from his new novel, “The Words.” As he starts to read, the scene dissolves into the story he tells.
Rory (Bradley Cooper) and Dora (Zoe Saldana) get into a limo on a rainy night. Rory is nervous. He's accepting a major literary award for his gripping book, “The Window Tear.” Dora is doing her best to soothe his nerves.
The young author is the embodiment of overnight success after years of work. He has studied writing and thought he had ideas to share, but his first book got a stack of rejection letters. He had worked at a menial job in a publishing house, hoping to make contacts that would help later.
He recalls moving to New York with Dora, marrying her and honeymooning in Paris. There, Dora bought him a battered leather briefcase, perfect for holding the works of a young writer.
As Rory fills the satchel with his own work, he stumbles on a timeworn folder full of typewritten pages. The story there is electric and he reads it through and is caught by the prose of the writer he will never be.
The love story haunts him — he can't sleep for thinking of it. What to do? He knows it is an original because there is an inky smudged fingerprint on one page.
Thrown into an ethical quandary, he does something both predictable and despicable. He copies it onto his computer to see how it feels to write that poignantly.
Quite by chance, his wife finds the story on his computer and realizes her husband has written something so different, so beautiful that he has to have editors and agents take a look at it.
Should he tell her the origin of the story and risk changing the adoring expression on her face?
That book is his ticket to the world of recognition, awards and having his other work published. He takes the chance no one will discover his lie.
He doesn't know he has been followed since the night in the limo ride in the rain.
It's a sunny day and Rory is sitting on a park bench by a pond when an old man (Jeremy Irons) stops, sits, and tells Rory what an amazing book he had written.
Used to adulation by now, Rory is nice, thanking the old man and talking to him. He autographs the old man's copy of his book and tries to brush him off, only to be stopped as the old man says the thing he thought could not happen.
It's the old man's story.
Rory can see his world crashing down, but curiously, the man only wants Rory to listen to how those pages found their way into that case.
Set in Paris at the end of World War II, a young American soldier has realized the world extends far beyond the borders of his Philadelphia neighborhood. He has met a beautiful French woman and as they fall in love, he must return to that tiny world.
He breaks free, returns to Paris and marries his beautiful girl. They have a daughter and things seem to be going well.
A tragedy shatters the little family and in two weeks of angst-ridden writing, his story is told and safely tucked into a brand-new leather case, which is lost on a train.
Author Clay Hammond is taking a break when a young postgraduate student comes to seduce the middle-aged author. Daniella (Olivia Wilde) wants to understand what drives a man to write such a complicated work, and is anxious to see how the young author in the book deals with this ethical quandary, or if the fictional story might be true.
It's these layers that make “The Words” work. Each question brings more questions and the viewer must decide what makes sense and what is his own truth.
The Parisian love story is easily the best. Actors Ben Barnes and Nora Arnezeder are perfect as the young pair whose lives are defined by great loss. Their curiously innocent tale is the bedrock of “The Words.”
Rory and Dora's contemporary tale is one of choices and beliefs. What would you do for the person who loves you? Would you support them no matter what? Would you change your version of what's right and wrong to convince your spouse you're the person they think you are?
Hammond and Daniella, while necessary, provide the weakest side of this triangle of tales. Hammond is world weary, Daniella unbending as the answers she gets about Hammond's book shake her version of standards and ethics.
“The Words” will leave you without answers. You must make your own judgment about whose story is true, who is hiding things and what happens after the last scene fades.
It's a great movie to discuss, to discover what others think the actual words mean. Flawed as it is, “The Words” is a movie you will want to see again.
— Sandi Davis
Rated PG-131:363 stars
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde, Ben Barnes, Nora Arnezeder, John Hannah, J.K. Simmons, Ron Rifkin. (Brief strong language and smoking)