The Words, opens with the perfectly groomed author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) walking out to do a reading from his highly successful novel of literary plagiarism, The Words.
As Quaid reads, we watch the story in his novel unfold. It tells of Rory Jenson (Bradley Cooper) who, on his Paris honeymoon, is given an old leather briefcase his wife (Zoe Saldana) finds in an antique shop. Back home and suffering from writer’s block, Rory finds a very good manuscript in the briefcase and decides to retype it and present it to a literary agent as his own.
The book that carries his name is a smash and, while he is busy being celebrated, we meet a character known as the “Old Man” (Jeremy Irons). This guy seems to turn up wherever Rory is and, ultimately, he approaches Rory on a beautiful day as the young author is sitting on a bench in Central Park.
We learn that the manuscript was written by this old man and we learn that it was his story of tragic love and loss set down in a frenzy while he was trying to recover from all that had happened. When the Old Man confronts him, Rory is filled with shame and fear but, despite Rory’s best efforts the real author refuses to take any money. Rory even — kind of miraculously because the Old Man’s name is never uttered — confronts the man in the greenhouse where he works but is sent firmly away.
Clay Hammond, meanwhile, meets a young groupie (Olivia Wilde) with whom he gets involved. As they talk, it is hinted that the story of Rory is, in reality, Clay’s own story. But, just as we never find out who the Old Man really is, we don’t find the answer to this question, either.
The Words, written and directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, is lovely to look at and the actors are fine. Irons is wonderful — aged 25 years by makeup, he is a touching, mysterious figure — and Cooper shows real acting chops. The film is fun but, the further away one gets from it, the more one questions it and sees the weaknesses in the script.
These people inhabit a beautiful world but, beneath the surface it turns out to be an extremely unsatisfying one — especially for the audience.