The latest stop on Clayton Hammond’s (Dennis Quaid) whirlwind book tour has the renowned author in New York City to promote his latest opus. It’s a cautionary tale of overwhelming regret recounting the rise and fall of a presumably fictional character called Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper).
At the story’s point of departure, he’s an aspiring novelist under pressure to find a day job after years of relying on handouts from his father (J.K. Simmons). The young man grudgingly capitulates by taking a lowly 9 to 5 gig in the mailroom of a leading literary agency.
The steady pay does enable Rory to save enough money to propose to his longtime girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) who has been patiently waiting to start a family. Soon enough, they’re newlyweds and honeymooning in Paris where the grateful bride impulsively buys her hubby a weather-beaten briefcase lying around a dusty antique shop.
Upon returning to the States, Rory opens the valise and discovers that it isn’t empty but contains a yellowed, handwritten manuscript by someone far more talented than he. However, instead of trying to locate the owner, he succumbs to the temptation to submit the novel to publishers under his own name.
And lo and behold, the book, “The Window Tears,” becomes a runaway best-seller, thereby belatedly launching the literary career he’d always dreamed of. But because of the possibility of the real author’s (Jeremy Irons) stepping forward to expose the fraud, Rory faces the prospect of having to spend 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 what his audience is hearing might be autobiographical rather than fictional.
Unfortunately, the problems with this glacial-paced production are plentiful. First, it’s hard to swallow 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.
Secondly, neither of the parallel plotlines is particularly engaging, the only issue of interest being whether Hammond’s new book constitutes a confession that his debut novel had been purloined. For this reason, the film’s biggest flaw rests in its ultimately ending on a cliffhanger, and thereby 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 awaiting the resolution of the specific 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.