“Worth” is just one of many films made about the World Trade Center attacks in New York City and Washington DC. September 11 is the collective name for all attacks, but it’s the New York City strikes that most come to mind when the phrase is mentioned. People who remember that day in New York, including your writer, remember a time when New York “came together” in the face of a terrible death. In the end, the truth turned out to be quite different.
But here we are, romanticizing the past while obstinately neglecting the present, all at risk for the future. Our discussion has deviated. Because Americans considered themselves underdogs for the first time since the nation’s founding, September 11 movies are almost always about underdogs. Worth is not about the oppressed American.
In reality, Worth has nothing to do with September 11. “What is a human life worth?” is a question that the film explicitly asks in the introduction. There will be a lot of disappointment for anyone hoping for something along the lines of Dark Waters or any other underdog movie starring Mark Ruffalo. Even the government, whose motives are questionable at best, is no bogeyman in Worth. The airlines are also in no rush to avoid lawsuits from victims and their loved ones, as some have suggested.
Instead of a hand-wringing, cat-pleasing Jeff Bezos lookalike, capitalism is the big enemy. Why should a janitor’s husband, who died on the same floor at the same time, be compensated less than a CEO’s husband?
“Yes,” says Kenneth Feinberg in Michael Keaton’s portrayal of the character. Stanley Tucci’s Charles, a widower whose wife died on 9/11, is trying to change his mind by making the fund better for the victims it’s supposed to help.
However, despite the fact that Feinberg is a real-life lawyer who was the special master of a victim’s fund, it is impossible for none other than the filmmakers to tell whether the victims’ experiences are real or whether they have been combined to create a create a dramatic storyline . When it comes to filming, it’s fine to use the latter, and Worth makes excellent use of it.
In the case of the Staten Island firefighter’s wife, the partner of a narrow-minded gay man but not his wife, and Charles himself, each victim offers a clear prism to explore what it means to love and lose, as well as the role money plays in that equation. Their actions, whether heroic or not, will have an impact on those left behind, not just as stand-ins for the very real people who perished.
What do we know about our loved ones? When they’re gone, how do we go on, but no further? What is the use of monuments and donations? Silent contemplation is the key to its effectiveness.
As far as I can tell, Kenneth’s opinion hasn’t been changed by a dramatic courtroom scenario or boast (except for a brief moment near the conclusion, which isn’t accompanied by a trumpet). As a result, Kenneth has come to realize that if he wants to make progress, he really needs to listen to those around him.
Keaton’s ability to portray this with empathy and depth is well known, but combined with Tucci’s gently simmering fear, the two have a lot to say. Although she has less screen time, Amy Ryan is just as impressive as Camille Biros, a stoic but empathetic (and very real) lawyer.
Worth also doesn’t shy away from the realities of capitalism: Those at the top, the surviving lovers of CEOs and lawyers, have a knife battle with Uzis. It’s a fact of life that Kenneth isn’t trying to change, but one that he’s trying to work with so he can do something righteous.
You won’t feel much better when Worth is done. Despite its triumphant ending, it’s more accurate than other movies, whose codas all have terrible news to tell. When the epilogue reveals that the effects of 9/11 and other mass casualties — such as the many shootings and natural disasters that followed — continue to happen but are still felt, it feels like something between a natural and a foregone conclusion, but not without hope. No not at all.
Everyone has a different memory of that day and the days that followed, both literally and emotionally. With grief, there is no roadmap, formula, or procedure to resolve it. There is only one option: to move forward and do our best.
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