Confession time, folks. One of the easiest ways to wreck me is to show me a photo of the endless sea of missing posters that were impossible to miss in the days after September 11th. Being a New York City resident, I saw those pieces of paper firsthand in the aftermath of 9/11, and they’ll haunt me forever. Lives, just gone in an instant. It’s something that makes me crumble. So, I have a sensitivity to if a film uses it in a manipulative fashion. Worth has ample opportunities to go that route, but thankfully, it chooses something more complex and more rewarding. Instead of cheap emotions, the movie seeks to traffic in nuance. While dreams of being another Spotlight may have fallen a bit short, this is still a bit of a hidden gem. Coming to Netflix this week, it’s certainly flying below the radar, more than it really should.
Worth is not easy to watch, for sure. You’re going to see parts of the aftermath of 9/11 that are hard to witness. However, the goal of the film is to understand grief, as well as the need to be heard/seen as more than a statistic, and to that end, this is largely successful. It’s a movie that doesn’t go for simple emotions, but getting to the core of Worth is certainly rewarding.
Taking place (mostly) in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks, we follow high end attorney and mediator Kenneth Feinberg (Michael Keaton). Hoping to do something to help in the days after 9/11, Ken pitches himself to John Ashcroft (Victor Slezak) as the man to lead the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Along with his partner at the firm, Camille Biros (Amy Ryan), he sets out to figure out how much each family is entitled to receive. Their loss may be incalculable, but the pair have to assign value somehow. Ashcroft and company had warned him that no one wanted this assignment, and he’s about to find out why.
Ken finds himself facing down a deadline to sign up the remaining families, all while struggling to get them to trust him. The chief thorn in his side is community organizer Charles Wolf (Stanley Tucci), himself a potential signee. Charles has the trust of the families, which Ken lacks. As the days tick by, however, he begins to understand more about the situation. He can’t just tackle this as a lawyer. He must approach it like a compassionate human being.
Michael Keaton and Stanley Tucci, both so tremendous in Spotlight, also do very fine work here. They elevate a good movie to a nearly great one. Keaton and Tucci, along with Amy Ryan, hammer home the points of the film without resorting to cheap tricks. Keaton and Tucci are actually playing lower key characters in Worth than in Spotlight, so they’re not as showy, but they’re nearly as good. Ryan has a somewhat more thankless role, but she has a few moments that showcase how talented she is. Supporting players include Tate Donovan, Marc Maron, Chris Tardio, and more. Overall, it’s a strong cast, from top to bottom.
Director Sara Colangelo and writer Max Borenstein avoid all of the easy shorthand that a film dealing with 9/11 could engage in. There’s no artifice here, so while it’s not documentary style, it’s also never stylized. Colangelo executes Borenstein’s script with the soft touch it needs. Any other way would have made the movie something it couldn’t have successfully been. Worth could have gone wrong in a number of ways. The fact that it didn’t is something worth celebrating.
Worth has a lot going in its favor. At the same time, it’s hard to know exactly who will be willing to put themselves through the wringer for this one. Hopefully, it’s more than just pundits like myself, since this is an excellent film. To be fair, the subject matter is limiting, but the movie tackles it in a way that won’t absolutely wreck you. Take it from me, the juice is worth the squeeze here…