You probably know about the controversy over whether Shakespeare wrote the well known works attributed to him Well imagine for a minute that William Shakespeare was a very good writer but couldn’t really get his first play published. For the sake of this argument, let us imagine that a man by the name of William Stanley writes just one story which is a great masterpiece but he loses the manuscript. Shakespeare, somehow found the manuscript and it is accepted for publication in his name. He then gets great acclaim and everyone wanted more writings. Since in fact he really was a good writer he produces a lot more stuff which is received very well although he didn’t write the first piece. In our imaginative story, Shakespeare goes on to fame and fortune and Stanley the writer of the first great piece, that opened the door for Shakespeare lives a mediocre life. The movie we are reviewing has nothing to do with Shakespeare or Stanley but the above situation is the essence of the fascinating plot of this movie.
Bradley Cooper plays Rory Jansen, a struggling young writer, who gets great praise by a literary agent for his first novel but he is told it isn’t really publishable. Dora (Zoe Saldena) is his girl friend who stands behind him and believes he will some day make it. Dennis Quaid plays the same writer at an older age maybe 10-15 years after he finally came up with that first great novel which set him on the path as a great writer. He is now on tour with his second or third novel. Jeremy Irons plays an old man who we see reaching out to this successful writer and confronting him with some very true but bad news for him about who really wrote his first novel. Nora Amerzaler plays the girl friend of the old man when he was a young man. They had a wonderful romance in France after the War which went on the rocks when she lost his novel in a briefcase on a train when coming to visit him.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is really a story within a story. It presents the audience with the ethical dilemma of what one should do if one had chosen to publish a found manuscript in your own name and then found out who really wrote it. What would the consequences be to you, your agent, your publisher and others if you came clean with what you did years ago when you lied. What should you do now, especially if the original author isn’t demanding that you acknowledge him?
If everything seems somewhat convoluted now , it is because it really is. The screen writers and co-directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal deserve to be applauded for this complex but feasible story. The execution of the film was difficult. While ambiguity is thought provoking, the film could have a been little clearer as it rolled out it’s complex story but in the end the film worked and we walked out of the theatre stimulated to have a lively discussion about it which lingers on in our thoughts .
The film does raise a burning question and that is whether the screen play was inspired by real events? In the film, the manuscript was found in store where it somehow was noted that Hemmingway had some connection. There are stories of this great writer having stored some unpublished manuscripts that have never been discovered. Perhaps they have been found and published in the finder’s name. Or maybe this script is based on a true event about some movie idea or TV show that was credited to someone who found the idea in a “cookie jar” or overheard someone discussing it at a party. In any case it is a thought provoking plot and a good film.