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Words and Pictures  (2014)
3 Stars
Directed by Fred Schepisi.
Cast: Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche, Valerie Tian, Navid Negahban, Bruce Davison, Amy Brenneman, Adam DiMarco, Josh Ssettuba, Janet Kidder, Christian Scheider, Keegan Connor Tracy, Andrew McIlroy, Eva Allan.
2014 – 111 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for sexual material, language and some mature thematic elements).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 16, 2014.
"Words and Pictures" is a slice-of-life about intelligent, learned people—a 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.
© 2014 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman