Worth is a a little bit Erin Brocovichy, a little bit Dark Watery, and appropriately it is also quite worthy. It deals with lawyers making decisions regarding appropriate financial compensation for those who have suffered unimaginable loss but even compared to those other films, this handles the big one. Worth tells to story of the legal fund that was set up to help those that lost people in the September 11th attacks.
It is interesting that a part of me thinks this is too soon because this is obviously twenty years ago now, to the day. It’s still raw though. Such was, and is, the impact of this event that it lives large in the public consciousness and will do for the rest of the lives of those that lived when it happened, let alone those that lived it. There have been movies around this before of course. I’ve never felt the desire to watch Oliver Stone and Nic Cage’s World Trade Center or the Charlie Sheen and Whooping Goldberg film 9/11, because I’m nervous of anything that appears to use this as the subject of a glossy disaster movie, but I have seen United 93 which was a gripping and respectful hymn to the people who died. The director of that film, Paul Greengrass, has a gift for making appropriate and important dramas around real tragedies but being able to do this is rare.
Worth is not insensitive to its topic and like Greengrass’ work, it aims to give a voice to some of those involved. For me though, the focus felt a little off. This film doesn’t concentrate on the victims of the attacks; the only time you see people who were in and around the building when it fell, their faces are not shown. Instead they are just out of frame or blurred in long shot. These are real people, not fictional characters, and leaving their loved ones with just their memories of them and not images of who played them briefly in a movie feels right. Instead Worth features those that they left behind. These thousands are mostly represented by four individuals, a man who has lost his common in law husband and whose loss isn’t recognised due to the deceased’s parent’s homophobia, the wife and brother of a firefighter and Stanley Tucci as Charles Wolf whose compassion and intelligence brings the disparate bereaved together. Each of these have a compelling narrative but we also get an extended series of talking heads, telling their stories to the lawyers, and here we learn of the range of painful experiences that people suffered. This isn’t the problem; it is wonderful that these voices are heard and the film is a genuine tribute to all of them. The issue is that none of these people, not even Tucci, are the lead.
Most of the running time is spent with Michael Keaton as Ken Feinberg, the man in charge of designing and administering the compensation fund. Keaton is typically great and you do feel his plight in trying to do right by those in need but this isn’t the part of the story I wanted to see. I was less interested in seeing his struggle to reach the 80% compliance he needed to make the project a success than I would have been staying with Tucci’s Wolf and his efforts to help his fellow beneficiaries get what they needed. Especially since it is Wolf that actually convinces people to sign up, Feinberg only convinces Wolf. There are wonderful films that stay with the legal teams in big cases; take those mentioned at the start or JFK, but this needed to go the route of The Trial of the Chicago Seven or Just Mercy and spread the focus on all of the players.
The film tells the story it aims to tell well enough. It is a good character study of Feinberg – a man who doesn’t even remove his suit jacket to relax at home, and it intercuts scenes well like when we see Feinberg speaking to the lawyers wanting more for their rich clients as his partner meets with the low income immigrant families who are thrilled with the minimum payout. It isn’t quite the right story though. Too often it feels like a distraction.
Maybe this was deliberate for all the reasons I explore at the start. The experiences that you hear these families have been through; the phone calls from the tower, the identifying bodies, are overwhelmingly heartbreaking and this didn’t need to turn into melodrama. Of course I realise that this all comes from Feinberg’s memoir but there was a better measure to be found here and other ways to honour those still living with this two decades later. It isn’t too soon for that and if you can’t make this enough of a focus then maybe this isn’t a story that needs telling.
The Ripley Factor:
Worth actually concentrates on three of the legal team. There is Keaton but we also have Amy Ryan as his partner Camille Biros and Shunori Ramanathan as Priya Khundi, who I suspect is not a real person.
This is interesting though as both of these women feel more real than Feinberg on occasion, who veers toward cliche with his falling asleep in the office and not making it home for family dinners. Biros and Khundi are very much his conscience but both play key roles which crucially are not the wife or the secretary.