|Words and Pictures (2014)
Reviewed by Dustin Putman
(Release Date: September 9, 2014) "Words and Pictures" is a slice-of-life about intelligent, learned peoplea key distinction that separates it from the majority of films wherein the supposedly well-educated are written with mismatching IQs. Much like the characters they have imagined, director Fred Schepisi (2003's "It Runs in the Family") and screenwriter Gerald Di Pego (2004's "The Forgotten") are enthusiastic about tackling the debate of which is better, words or pictures. In one corner is English professor Jack Marcus (Clive Owen), whose outgoing conviction for his job not very convincingly shields a serious drinking problem. In the other is Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche), the no-nonsense new fine arts teacher to Croydon Prep. Jack will do whatever necessary in order to keep his job, even as his personal relationship with grown son Tony (Christian Scheider) has crumbled. For Dina, an artist in search of inspiration who refuses to let her rheumatoid arthritis get the best of her, she is initially annoyed by colleague Jack's come-ons, then challenged by him in the most rejuvenating ways. To take a chance on a man at a point in her life when she had assumed romance was out of the question is a difficult bridge to cross, and Dina soon becomes painfully aware that there can be no hope for them until he decides to help himself.
Clive Owen (2014's "Blood Ties") and Juliette Binoche (2014's "Godzilla") are exceptional in "Words and Pictures," sparring with acerbic flair even as their chemistry skyrockets. Troubled in separate but not entirely different ways, Jack and Dina are developed as three-dimensional adults sidelined by adversity and illness but never less than passionate about the things they love. When they decide to lead their school in a dialogue about the power of the written word and the emotion within visual arts, the ensuing argument proves fascinating and insightful. That the picture makes sure the viewer hears the poetry and sees the paintings being discussed gives the story an enthralling authenticity. It is a joy to see a film that tackles the topic of art and its value in the world, and all the better that actors of Owen's and Binoche's caliber can lead it. The use of some treacly soundtrack cues that do not comfortably fit the tone is the one trouble spot in an otherwise sophisticated, poignant romantic drama of ideas, consequences and second chances.
"Words and Pictures" arrives from Lionsgate Films with a sterling 1080p transfer that delivers favorably upon every tone and color filling the 2.39:1 frame. Its small-town New England setting comes alive with radiant detail and contrast. Problem areas are slim to nil, with no technical anomalies found. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is very good, but a relatively quiet, dialogue-centric film of this nature doesn't exactly lend itself to overwhelming one's auditory senses. Still, music and dialogue come through with confidence.
- Audio Commentary with director Fred Schepisi
- "Behind the Scenes of Words and Pictures" Featurette (17:46, HD)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:32, HD)
"Words and Pictures" is an involving film for grown-ups and teens, a sort of modernistic version of "Dead Poets Society" (there is even a reference to Walt Whitman's "O Captain! My Captain!") that blends romance with a balanced, good-natured polemic about the craft of great writing and art. The picture deserved more notice when it came to theaters, and should hopefully find an appreciative audience on home video. Lionsgate's Blu-ray release of "Words and Pictures" includes a couple worthwhile extras on top of an already-strong movie. Highly recommended.