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The Secret Life of Words


By Christopher Skokna | Posted 4/16/2008

Tim Robbins has proven himself an actor who can handle lengthy monologues and hokey dialogue (see, respectively, The Shawshank Redemption and Bull Durham). But either Robbins himself or director Isabel Coixet fails him in his interminable question-and-no-answer sessions with Sarah Polley. Hanna (Polley) is a quiet, nearly deaf, OCD-afflicted warehouse worker from the former Yugoslavia who has come to vacation in Ireland but ends up on a deep-sea oil rig, where she nurses the loquacious and flirtatious Josef (Robbins), who was badly burned and temporarily blinded in an accident on the rig. Polley acquits herself better than Robbins, maybe because Hanna doesn't have to talk much, but she also ends up with some terrible dialogue to overcome. The Secret Life of Words eventually comes to its point, with Hanna's revelation of what made her the way she is, but this confession comes too late, as we've already stopped caring about these characters (no less the other quirky enigmas wandering the oil rig). Words' subjects are deeply serious, making viewers feel guilty not for the crimes against humanity they are complicit in, but for not liking this movie, whose shoddy structure and, well, words fail its themes.

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