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Eleanor Ringel Cater

“The Words” — an annoying movie about how cheaters don’t win

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

The word for the movie — “The Words” — is…disappointment.

No, it’s more like, pretentious.

Or maybe, annoying.

Okay, let’s go with…drivel.

Sputtering along like Nicolas Sparks Lite (Liter than Lite?), the movie is a movie within a movie within a movie, give or take a movie. Like “Inception” without Christopher Nolan or Leo or Marion Cotillard or tumbling buildings or a spinning top — that’s right; minus any of the parts with the slightest bit of interest. And even then, I’m giving the spinning top the benefit of the doubt.

“The Words” begins with A Celebrated Writer (Dennis Quaid) reading from his new book, “The Words,” at some prestigious-looking Literary Event.

Quaid’s book, called “The Burning Tree” (yes, they pretty much lost me right there), is the tale of a Struggling Young Author (Bradley Cooper) who lives in one of those ubiquitous romantic garrets (or basements) in post-World War II Paris where he hopes to become the next Hemingway.

By any means necessary, as it turns out

Lucky Cooper has a gorgeous wife (Zoe Saldana, wasted) who provides precisely what gorgeous women do in stories like this: food, sex and support

Soooo, while Cooper nearly breaks his neck stumbling over an insurmountable writer’s block, she remains a True Believer. Which is why she buys him a battered old briefcase in an antique store. He’s touched of course, but what really lights his fire is a yellowed manuscript hidden inside the briefcase.

And he can’t help himself. As screenwriters/co-directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, who gave us the deathless words for “Tron: Legacy,” put it, “He just wanted to feel the words pass through his fingers.”

Sort of like A-List plagiarists Jonah Lehrer and Jayson Blair, I imagine.

And is it really his fault that gorgeous cooks-as-good-as-she-looks Mrs. Struggling Young Author thinks those words are his?

Remember, he “just wanted to feel the words …”

Before Cooper can say, “But what I really want to do is direct,” fame has him in its glittering clutches. All would be well — after all, he’s got years to write something himself — if only a scraggly old man with mournful Jeremy Irons Eyes didn’t turn up (played by a scraggly Jeremy Irons with those you-know-what eyes). Apparently, he knows a few things about that battered old briefcase and its yellowing manuscript.

I may have dozed off at that point or gone to get those Raisinets I’d been thinking about, but when I re-focused, I figured that what “The Words” is trying to get at is something like this: cheaters don’t win and winners don’t cheat.

Or maybe something as simple as: when words pour out of you, it’s easier when they are somebody else’s words. But in the end, you’ll…?

So here’s our moral fulcrum: The Truth may or may not out. And it may be up to you, the writer (or the plagiarist) to make that decision.

My theory — being, I’ll bet, the only one among us to have seen both “Tron” and “Tron: Legacy,” is that “The Words” may be some sort of convoluted confession by Klugman and Sternthal.

They are pleading with us to believe they found the script for “Tron: Legacy” behind a battered old “Pirates of the Caribbean” call sheet. And their wives liked it so much that….

Eleanor Ringel

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.



  1. Pravda September 3, 2012 9:06 pm

    That was the most cunty review I’ve ever read of any film, ever. These dudes created the STORY for Tron, not the screenplay . Did you research that before you Printed you article ?
    I saw ‘The words’ and it’s a very thoughtful film, actually. This poor old woman needs a hug. To see a critic’s unhappiness so clearly revealed in a review is sad. Report

    1. GreenLantern September 4, 2012 4:53 am

       @Pravda What an ugly Comment, and what an appropriate screen name (“Pravda”), because these remarks have about as much value as most of what has appeared in that esteemed propaganda publication over the years. I don’t know about the screenplay-versus-story issue, but I do know that Eleanor is great and neither poor nor old. Eleanor, please ignore this nasty Comment. Report

  2. capreno January 2, 2013 12:42 pm

    I don’t know what the reviewerstalking about? I enjoyed  the movie The Words and everyone in it. Yes, cheaters never win and let should tell you if you can’t do it yourself(write a book) don’t take someone elses ideas it’ll bit you in the ass in the long run. CAPReport

  3. Chip K. Hoines April 25, 2018 2:01 am

    Thoroughly annoying story but probably appropriate in the Trump era. Cooper fit part. Good thing they added some real actors!!!Report


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