A Thousand Words takes the art of silence to another level.
Jack McCall (Eddie Murphy) struggles to find the meaning of life. McCall has a beautiful wife (Kerry Washington), a baby son, a beautiful, artsy looking house complete with a lovely pool/padio-backyard. For a living, McCall says he is the best: he can sell anyone anything. He is the talker, the man to close the deal.
When a deal comes to light that involves a Buddhist monk, or spiritual guru, I wasn’t certain which, a Dr. Sinja (played by Cliff Curtis), McCall tries his best talker’s talk, his best sales pitch, and thinks he has won. However, Sinja turns the tables on him: a Bodhi tree appears poolside. It pops out of the ground that night and starts its mission: to lose leaves and drive Jack McCall insane. Sinja’s revenge.
McCall soon learns the meaning of the tree with the help of his friend and co-worker Aaron Wiseberger (played by Clark Duke). Without confiding in his wife, McCall tries to deal with what his has learned. Every word he speaks, a leaf falls from the tree. Once the tree is bare, McCall will die.
McCall’s life goes downhill pretty fast as he tries to limit what he says and when he says it. However, he doesn’t have much common sense, as he confides in Aaron but not his wife, Caroline. His wife ends up leaving him, and he wastes many words (and leaves) by getting drunk and screaming at the tree. Even sign language, apparently, counts, as in a classic Murphy scene, complete with overdramatic facial expression, he flips the tree off.
Obviously, the tree is teaching him a lesson. He must confront painful things from his past, namely his father leaving the family, and painful things from the present, namely his mother’s dementia or Alzheimer’s (his mother is played by Ruby Dee).
His mother thinks that Jack is his father, and that brings the pain of his father’s abandonment full-circle. In the scenes with his mother, the most poignant scenes in the film, I thought, he has to learn to think carefully before he speaks and weigh which words mean the most.
This is a meaning of life movie. In other words, the protagonist will eventually hit bottom, and then find his way back up, and on the way up, learn valuable life lessons. It is full of what Eddie Murphy is famous for: the heavy talker, and then the enormous facial expression. When he has to act without speaking, the facial expressions take over, which is expected.
Cliff Curtis gets to try his hand at a Buddhist monk, which I don’t believe he has played. And now he can say he has played every ethnicity in movies. He is certainly the man of a thousand cultures, and a good reason to watch.
Eddie Murphy is Eddie Murphy in PG-13 mode. Besides the scene with Kerry Washington dressed in a dominatrix outfit (she is trying to get him to talk), this is a family movie. It has a moral message, and a feel-good ending. I walked away from the movie liking the concept but not sure I liked the execution.
On Blu-ray, the sets (ie, the house), the pool, and the tree look amazing. The Blu-ray comes with an alternate ending and deleted scenes.
Visit the DVD database for more information.Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.