Directed By Sara Colangelo
Starring – Michael Keaton, Amy Ryan, Stanley Tucci
The Plot – Following the horrific 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Congress appoints attorney and renowned mediator Kenneth Feinberg (Keaton) to lead the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Assigned with allocating financial resources to the victims of the tragedy, Feinberg and his firm’s head of operations, Camille Biros (Ryan), face the impossible task of determining the worth of a life to help the families who had suffered incalculable losses. When Feinberg locks horns with Charles Wolf (Tucci), a community organizer mourning the death of his wife, his initial cynicism turns to compassion as he begins to learn the true human costs of the tragedy.
Rated PG-13 for some strong adult language and thematic elements
– Sharp-tongued dialogue. Considering “Worth” isn’t a movie with high speed chases, or multi-million dollar action sequences at its disposal, the interaction between characters should be most inviting and indulgent with its audience. This is nearly impossible with a movie pertaining to government policies and on-paper text, but screenwriter Max Borenstein has a thorough way of explaining matters, which doesn’t feel demeaning to an uninformed audience, nor hindering on the naturalistic element of the movie’s engagement. It’s presented in a clearly concise and sponteneously flowing manner that further illustrates the many diverse personalities and varied responses to grief from each of its victims. It values each of them in a way that other films often group them together as one conveniently cohesive unit for the sake of not sacrificing valued screen time, making each of their arguments and internal conflicts resonate soundly and detailed at the disposal of the audience’s interpretation.
– Thought-provoking. While I knew of the fund created by Feinberg and his associates, I never truly grasped the immense responsibility and planning of such work, which would stereotypically be viewed as helpful, but here stings with deceitful backlash. This is realized in a series of interactions and questions that Feinberg and his associates sift through consistently throughout the film, all the while deconstructing this alarming commentary with how those in charge view certain people as more valuable than others, while grouping each of them together as statistics. It not only sifts through the right topics and conversation pieces, but it also supplants an underlining skepticism to the personality of the feature, which proves that every good deed does in fact go punished when insensitivity rears its ugly head. It focuses on the more intimately nuanced aspects within a universally shape-shifting event, and points out the many flaws in logic with a system being forced to learn and adapt with each unforeseen tragedy.
– Moody aesthetics. Further playing into the devastatingly depressing nature of the material is an equally reflective presentational depth that materializes the grief into this inescapably bleak fog that constantly lingers over the movie’s visual capacities. This is realized with a thorough combination of color grading and patient editing, which not only externalize the suffering that a country was enduring internally at that time, but also presents a calmly sedated alluring factor to the film that is enticingly easy on the eyes. The consistencies of subtle blue and grey paint a hypnotically therapeutic quality to the newfound world being depicted, and the various stretching takes of long-winded deliveries prescribes a bottled intensity to the building interaction, which doesn’t feel manipulated or shaped in a way that is anything but natural, granting it an untouched honesty that is proof of the production doing their homework.
– Mental chess. Without question, the highlights of the movie for me were the scenes in which Keaton and Tucci share the screen, and outline the evidential disconnect between government and its citizens accordingly. Not only are these moments entertaining from iconic personalities involved in them interacting for the first time on-screen ever, but they’re also conveying to the ideal of communication, and how important it is to universal understanding and prominence. What’s most important here is that even though Keaton is a facial registry for governmental suits, he’s not directed as an antagonist or with an inhuman persistence. Like Tucci’s character, he’s also a man who is trying to right a terrifying wrong, but the level of unnerve in their exchanges speaks volumes about how distant they are with what’s needed, all the while producing an air of irony to the timely relevance of its release, which cements that even after twenty years since 9/11, we as a nation are as divided as ever.
– Impactful presences. As previously established, Keaton and Tucci are mesmerizing with the way they unload varied psychology to the integrity of their opposing stances. For Tucci, it’s the soft-spoken but assertive manner in his deliveries that not only articulate the ingenuity of his arguments, but never sacrifice the underlining anger, to which he has no shortage of. For Keaton, it’s a constant nervousness and rigidness that illustrates how over his head he is in all of this, while bottling the heart and compassion for understanding that he only fully commits to once he comes face to face with the legions of those left behind. Besides these two, I also loved the casting choices with the various extras playing these grieving victims. There’s a rawness and anger to their emotional resonance that give their deliveries an authentically rich relevance, especially since they are the eyes and ears of the audience, who are immersing themselves in these policies for most likely the first time in their lives.
– Deeper meaning. There are many themes and life lessons attributed to the duration of the narrative, but the one that left me thinking long after the film concluded was the poignancy afforded to balancing your morals with objectivity. This can obviously pertain to the entirety of the complex, diverse characters littered throughout this film, but especially the victims of the family, who are asked to write a blank check for a lifetime of memories and legacy with those they will never get back. This is also relevant for Keaton’s Kenneth, as his job objective is to resolve matters in a way that is as quietly convenient to higher ups without understanding the depth of despair instilled by loss and ensuing grief. It’s the magnetic link that binds each side together seamlessly, whether they understand it or not, and among the other matters you take away from the film stands as the foundation that the story and conflict are based on.
– Padded pacing. Even with the compelling nature of its narrative, and the abundance of exceptional performances at its disposal, there’s a pivotal missing piece to the progression of the story that has it feeling all of the weight of its two hour run time. For my money, a lot of the problem stems the day in question itself, with an outsiders depiction of everything that happened internally, as well as a rushed first act, which sets an inconsistent precedent to the rest of the film. Considering we rush into the conflict at around the fifteen minute mark of the presentation, it’s further alarming that the other two acts come and go with a complete lack of urgency, despite its plot playing against a literal clock that is constantly ticking. Because it builds up to a resolution that can only go one of two ways, it makes for several predictable character arc’s and unexplained solutions that directly undercut the connection to the audience, and gives us an underwhelming climax because of such.
– Painfully torturous. The mood and ensuing atmosphere for the film is one of mirrored relevance to the way America was feeling during the time, but that doesn’t make “Worth” any less masochistic because of such. This is one aspect of the movie’s consistently that I find most detrimental to its lasting legacy, because it’s one of those unique kind of films that you have to be in a particular mood to watch. Whether it’s sifting through the various families recalling everything they lost, and how, or the actual phone recordings from real life victims at the moment of impact, there’s an adverse effect to the accessibility of this information that doesn’t feel justified or necessary to what’s pertained, exploiting victims for the sake of entertainment value. It’s very much the film that it was advertised as during the trailers, but that aspect alone comes with condemning consequences, and leaves the film feeling like a shameful exercise in futility.
– Questionable cinematography. Even with my earlier praise of the presentational textures playing into the tonal consistency of the film throughout, there were still a couple of shots lacking the kind of knowledge to understand why Colangelo shot something a particular way. Certain meaningful sequences like one of Keaton’s Kenneth staring out a window, and the audience seeing the pentagon explosion in its reflection are balanced with constantly out of focused depictions between two characters in frame, which serve as an alienating and consequential distraction to what we are tasked to follow. Another such hiccup pertains to the unexplored framing of many meaningful shots, which could’ve explored a deeper purpose in context, but are instead articulated as routinely dull and unappealing as conventional can convey, leaving the presentation plagued by Colangelo’s lack of experience behind the feature length lens.
My Grade: 7/10 or B