In his new movie, The Words, Bradley Cooper plays a young novelist who swipes someone else’s book and rides it to fame.
In his previous turn as a leading man, Limitless, he played a slacker who takes a pill to give him an edge over the rest of the world.
But any connection between the characters in those films and his own sudden rise is coincidental. Cooper, 37, has paid his dues and earned his breaks.
If he is playing characters caught up in glory not entirely of their own making, it’s because he is in a position to choose interesting roles that rely on more than just his good looks.
“The guy in Limitless was able to actually accomplish the things he accomplishes himself — after he’s taken the pill,” Cooper said. “He kind of deserved it, right?” Rory (Cooper’s character in The Words) “didn’t do anything to deserve the acclaim he won.”
Cooper said he was drawn to The Words because of the murky moral ground Rory stands on. Like generations of aspiring writers, he has taken something he admires and copied it as a way of absorbing the writer’s style.
“For me, him copying the manuscript was like a pianist playing a great piece of music,” said writer-director Brian Klugman. “He wants to hear it, to feel it.”
But that copying leads to a misunderstanding, to publication, to awards and limos and wealth.
Rory’s chief sin, according to Cooper, is that “He’s impatient. He’s not willing to wait to get his break. Really, what he does is rob himself of the bliss of creating something really wonderful.”< /p>
Klugman and co-screenwriter Lee Sternthal, who also shared directing duties on The Words, saw the film as a chance to ruminate on the notion of guilt as punishment. Rory’< s punishment, Sternthal said, is in not finding out whether he had what it takes to become a literary star.
“We talked about the idea of living with guilt, and whether or not you can alleviate that or ever truly escape it,” Klugman said. “Guilt is a tough emotion to carry with you. It doesn’t help you with anything, near as I can tell.”
“We’re used to seeing movies and books where somebody faces terrible punishments for their crimes,” Sternthal added. “It’s almost like guilt has gone out of the conversation. We wanted to re-introduce ‘guilt’ into the culture — the idea that it can be a punishment in and of itself.”
Reviewers are praising Cooper and The Words for having literary ambition but are panning its execution.
Todd Gilchrist at Indiewire noted that “Cooper successfully communicates the idea of a guy who’s not as talented as he wishes.” But Ray Greene of BoxOffice magazine cracked that it is “a movie for people who buy their novels at Starbucks, made by people who write their novels at Starbucks.” In other words, he said — screenwriters.
Cooper should be able to shrug off the criticism. He will appear in the film adaptation of The Silver Linings Playbook in the fall. And if nothing else, The Words gave him the chance to add Jeremy Irons to a list of “screen legends” he has worked with, from Christopher Walken (Wedding Crashers) to Liam Neeson (The A-Team) and Robert De Niro (Limitless).
“Limitless provided me with the ability to make more interesting choices, to take a bigger, more creative role in the collaboration,“ Cooper said.
He used that to his advantage in The Words.
“You want to learn from the really great actors you work with,” he said. “And what I’m learning is that the great ones share one thing: this sort of integrity about the work. They’re easy to get along with, generous.”