When you think of Bradley Cooper, the last place you might expect to see his new film play would be the Sundance Film Festival. But the "Hangover" alumnus was very much front and center Saturday morning at an impossibly jammed early industry preview of "The Words," a literary thriller starring Cooper as a hot young novelist harboring a secret.
Just as a blizzard arrived in Park City, Utah, so did a storm of distributors, all trying to get into the sneak preview. Buyers from every major specialized film company were on hand -- the theater was so packed, Harvey Weinstein couldn't get a seat until five minutes after the film started -- and unlike Friday night's troubled premiere of "Red Lights," no one left early. A big sale for "The Words" seems all but guaranteed as acquisition queries started coming in soon after the screening let out.
Cooper plays Rory Jansen, who has spent three years working on a novel -- it's deemed too "subtle," "interior" and "artistic" -- that some people admire but no one wants to publish. Rory's money and his determination are about to run out when he stumbles across an abandoned manuscript tucked inside a 1940s valise that he and his wife, Dora (Zoë Saldana), buy at a Parisian antique store. Rory agonizes over his options, but realizing "the reality of what he would never become," eventually decides to pass off the found novel, called "The Burning Tree," as his own. The novel is a huge success, and Rory is made -- or is he?
The movie, directed and written by actor Brian Klugman and screenwriter Lee Sternthal in their filmmaking debut, is framed by another author's reading of his book, called "The Words," by Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid). Clay's book recounts what happens to Rory, and what happens after the original creator of "The Burning Tree," played by Jeremy Irons, learns of Rory's plagiarism. The story flashes back to post-war Paris, when a younger Irons (played by Ben Barnes), falls in love with a French woman and uses their troubled marriage as the backbone of the only book he ever wrote. The rest of the cast includes Olivia Wilde as an aspiring writer who throws herself at Clay, and J.K. Simmons as Rory's father.
Unlike more than a few Sundance titles, "The Words" has both highbrow intentions and audience appeal. At least one buyer found the story obvious, but that opinion appeared to be in the minority.
Photo of Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Irons in "The Words." Credit: Jonathan Wenk.