The latest stop on Clayton Hammond’s (Dennis Quaid) book tour has the renowned author in New York City to promote his latest work. It’s a cautionary tale of overwhelming regret recounting the rise and fall of a presumably fictional character called Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper).
In a series of flashbacks, the story open; with Rory as an aspiring novelist who is being pressured to find a job after years of relying on handouts from his father (J.K. Simmons). The young man grudgingly capitulates and takes a job in the mailroom of a leading literary agency.
The steady pay enables Rory to save enough money to finally propose to his girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) who has been patiently waiting to marry him. The newlyweds spend their honeymoon in Paris where the grateful bride impulsively buys her husband a weather-beaten briefcase that she finds in a dusty antique shop.
When they return home Rory opens the valise and discovers that it contains a yellowed handwritten manuscript written by someone who is far more talented than him. However, instead of trying to locate the author, he succumbs to the temptation to submit the novel to publishers under his own name.
Lo and behold, the book, The Window Tears, becomes a runaway bestseller, and Rory finds himself in the midst of the literary career he’d always dreamed of having. However, because the real author (Jeremy Irons) could step forward to expose the fraud, Rory faces the prospect of spending his life looking over his shoulder.
Co-written and co-directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, The Words is constructed as a series of flashbacks narrated by a visibly-haunted Hammond as he reads excerpts from his new book. It gradually becomes obvious that he is emotionally agonizing over the material on the pages as the tension mounts around whether his audience is hearing is autobiographical or fiction.
Unfortunately, the problems with this slow-paced production are plentiful. First, it’s hard to accept the film’s farfetched premise, and harder still to fathom how its protagonist has managed to maintain the charade for so long, especially given his guilty conscience and being confronted by the aggrieved party he’s impersonated.
Additionally, neither of the parallel plotlines is particularly engaging, the only issue of interest being whether Hammond’s new book is a confession that his debut novel had been purloined. For this reason, the film’s biggest flaw rests in its cliffhanger ending failing to resolve if Rory Jansen is indeed a thinly-veiled version of the author.
That anticlimactic conclusion proves to be quite unsatisfying after an investment of what feels like an eternity waiting for the answer to the question “Did he or didn’t he?” The only thing worse than a movie without an ending, is a ninety-minute endurance test without an ending.
Fair (*). Rated PG-13 for smoking, sensuality, and brief profanity. Running time: 96 minutes. Distributor: CBS Films.