"Say the word and you'll be free; say the word and be like me; say the word I'm thinking of; have you heard the is love?" Oh no, wait, Bradley Cooper's more romance-driven film about a book comes later, though the, "be like me" part kind of fits, seeing as how this film is about plagiarism. Speaking of familiar material, first it's this film, and next, it's "Silver Linings Playbook"; what is up with Brad Cooper and books this year? Well, he can tap into 100% of his brain capacity, so it's not completely outside of the realm of possibility that he would write two... or three, or four, or sixty books within a year, as sure as it "is" outside of the realm of possibility that someone would be able to unlock 100% of his or her brain without, like, the universe or something collapsing. I joke, but I still liked "Limitless", and certainly more than most of critics, because although "Limitless" did much better with the critics than this film, it still didn't quite recieve the credit that it probably deserved. I don't know, maybe the critics are still a bit iffy about Cooper, as this film will definately tell you, because, woah boy, is it recieving some not so flattering "words" from critics, which is pretty harsh, considering that this film actually isn't all that bad. Still, while this film is something of an underrated effort, it's still also underwhelming, and for more than a few reasons.
As I'll go more into later, this film's subject matter is nothing short of highly promising, with intrigue and depth that I'm sure would make for a darn good book, as sure as it would make for a very good film, something that this film isn't, because as strong as the story concept is, experienced writers and debuting directors Brian Klugman's and Lee Sternthal's execution of their vision proves to be underwhelming and problematic, with flaws that all start with exposition, or rather, a lack of exposition, as the film, while reasonably fleshy, feels underdeveloped, failing to tap as deeply as it should into its various story layers. More problematic is the body of the storytelling, which calls more to your attention the limiting of exposition through a degree of heavy-handed hurrying that glosses along this character study that cannot afford to be handled with clumsiness that may not be too intense in this film, but just pronounced enough to take the potential genuineness of the depth and intrigue and craft superficiality. At merely a little over an hour-and-a-half, this film is brief, and too much so, having a story that isn't quite as dynamic and, in concept, considerably lengthy as it appears to be in this film's marketing, but still not taking the time that it should draw from exposition and depth, and deliver on what it needs to, and yet, as heavy-handedly hurried as this film is, a just as towering problem is, of all things, slowness, because although the film is rarely, if ever all-out dull, it blands up and pads out. With all of its hurrying and exposition limitations, the film still finds time to kill time, not exactly making up for time lost by using excess material to fill the holes that would bring this film to its conceptually fitting longer length, but still having many a moment outstay its welcome, to where the film doesn't simply meander, but slips into bland aimlessness. These desperate reaches for length prove to be about as effective as the superficiality and hurrying in emphasizing the minimalism within this film's story concept, which is still worthy, but betrayed by a faulty execution and, of course, its own promises. If nothing else, this film is overambitious, being not necessarily arrogant in its vision, but too desperate and too hopeful to produce something that it doesn't quite have the storytelling chops to produce. Sure, the film's ambitions are understandable, yet they only further pronounces the shortcomings, of which, there aren't quite as many as this Rotten Tomatoes' startingly poor score would have you believe, but enough for this promising tale to sputter out in execution short of what it could have been. Of course, what the final product ultimately is is a film that engages more often than not, not being able to achieve what it should and wants to achieve, but keeping you interested, and doing so with the help of technicality, or at least in some...-a few...-one part.
One of the most overlong points in the film is a segment that is necessary, even with its excessiveness, and that is, of course, Jeremy Irons' "Old Man" characters' flashback to his youth and, by extension, the events leading up to his writing of the book, - whose plagiarization by Bradley Cooper's Rory Jansen character is the central conflict of Dennis Quaid's Clay Hammond character's book, the titular "The Words" (It's a story within a story within a story, or rather, "Storyception") - which is a subplot that may outstay its welcome a bit, but proves to be one of the more engaging sections of the film, not just emotionally, but aesthetically, as production designer Michele Laliberte recreates the '40s and '50s with clever intricacy and believability that sells you on the setting, while Antonio Calvache's cinematography hits its highest marks. For whatever reason, Calvache chooses to really step up his photographic efforts when shooting the beautiful flashback segment, though it's not like the rest of the film is visually bland, for although the film is at its most handsome during the aforementioned flashback segment, which, even then, has its relatively average spots, no moment in the film is less than visually appealing, with depth to definition and lighting that, upon finding a magic occasions, particularly stuns. The film isn't exactly technically and artistically remarkable, having neither the considerable quantity nor immense quality to be all that stunning, but it is aesthetically attractive, even though its primary focus rests within the very substance that goes all too often betrayed in execution. Again, the film's storytelling, while hardly sloppy, could be tighter, with more range and less aimlessness, both of which go into emphasizing natural shortcomings and limitations within this film's story concept, though not so much so that it totally obscures the subject matter's value, which isn't abundant, but strong, with unique structuring ideas that cannot be ignored, even in the final product, and potential depth, weight and livliness that may unfortunately be not much more than unrealized potential, but is potent enough in concept to spark an immediate degree of intrigue that is actually augmented by directors Brian Klugman's and Lee Sternthal's ambition. Klugman and Sternthal betray their story vision with overambition to go along with and emphasize storytelling hiccups, yet the pride in this project is undeniable, even if it is undercut, though most definately to no fault of the performers, because as problematic as the offscreen performances are, it's the oncreen talent that really shines, with the underused Dennis Quaid and Zoe Saldana, and the briefly present Ben Barnes and Nora Arnezeder, being charming and, on occasions, effective when presented with genuine dramatic material, while Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Irons stand out. Cooper has only so much to do dramatically, yet he is consistently charismatic, and when dramatic material does, in fact, come into play, he once again reminds us of his potential by delivering on emotional range that is not simply impressive or compelling, but powerful in its marriage of subtlety and intensity that is much too underused, much like Jeremy Irons, who, upon stepping onto the screen, steals the show, reminding us of his history of being a powerful actor by taking considerably limited material and turning in a nevertheless excellent and exceedingly charismatic performance that subtly and gracefully conveys Irons' "Old Man" character's lifetime of regret, brought more to light by an injustice, with depth and a profound presence that defines Irons' character as a mysterious yet deeply defined human, and one of the more compelling forces in the film. The film has the style and, to a certain degree, acting chops to help in making this film's worthy story concept more worthy, yet narrative is too limp to take off, though not so limp that it completely disengages, as the undeniable ambition and strengths that can be found spark enough intrigue within the film to make it an enjoyable one, even though it could have hit harder.
To close this book... within a book (I'm telling you, man, "Storyception"), a worthy story concept goes betrayed by underdevelopment and heavy-handedness, matched only by, of all things, slow spells that bland and bloat narrative into aimlessness that emphasizes the story concept's natural shortcomings, which go further brought to life by overambition, thus making for a film that falls short of what it could have been and wants to be, but still doesn't fall too far behind, being pushed foward by a handsome visual style - which is, like the production designs, at its sharpest during the 1940s and '50s segment - and story concept whose undeniable uniqueness and conceptul value, complimented by charm within Brian Klugman's and Lee Sternthal's perhaps too ambitious direction, and a myriad of memorable performances, - particularly those of compelling leading man Bradley Cooper and a show-stealing Jeremy Irons - helps in making "The Words" an interesting portrait on the humanity of literature, even with its unrealized potential.
2.5/5 - Fair