Two reviews in case your instant reaction to a 9/11 movie is “NO.
Why Netflix drama Worth is the best 9/11 movie to date
The Kindergarten Teacher director Sara Colangelo’s sensitive and poignant film about the victim compensation fund is a surprisingly necessary tribute
Benjamin Lee Mon 6 Sep 2021 02.31 EDT
Worth begins with a cacophony of urgent noise. Sirens, screams, crashes, panic – a hurricane of chaos that The Kindergarten Teacher director Sara Colangelo then tasks herself with sifting through over the next almost two hours. How does one even begin to make sense of what happened on 11 September 2001?
It’s a question that’s troubled many film-makers ever since the unfathomable acts of terrorism that jolted the US two decades ago, a devastating, lingering wound that Hollywood hasn’t always tried to heal with sensitivity. The technical prowess of Paul Greengrass’s United 93 couldn’t mask the grim grotesquerie of such a deeply unnecessary project while the cheap twist finale of Robert Pattinson’s romantic drama AKA secret 9/11 movie Remember Me was as ridiculous as it was distasteful. The problematic nature of the many “war on terror” films – from the masturbatory militarism of American Sniper to the since-debunked torture fantasy of Zero Dark Thirty – has also rendered them largely useless. So Colangelo’s drama, which premiered at Sundance in 2020 and has now been given a hushed release on Netflix, arrives with a trail of wreckage behind it, audiences clicking with understandable caution.
Colangelo neatly sidesteps these prior mistakes by choosing not to focus on what happened that day (she makes a conscious decision to avoid any form of recreation with extremely limited use of aftermath footage) or those whose lives were lost and instead zeroes in on the ones who were left behind, not sent away to fight a murkily reasoned war but saddled at home with incomprehensible loss. The story follows the impossible task taken on by a lawyer, Ken Feinberg (a studied, understated Michael Keaton), who, along with his emotionally conflicted team, must find a way to allocate a compensation fund to the loved ones of the victims using a rigid formula. If they don’t find a just way to do it, if they can’t persuade the 7,000-plus family members to sign up, then they risk lawsuits that could cripple the economy. But how do you place value on a life? How do you turn a father, a mother, a wife, a boyfriend, a daughter into a number?
In approaching such thorny material, Colangelo and the writer Max Borenstein find themselves in a similarly fraught predicament to Feinberg and his staff, trying to balance the need for sentiment and humanity with the practicalities and legalities of the situation. The oppressive sadness of every angle of what happened on 9/11 makes it all too easy to lean into teary theatrics, as Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center often did, but there’s something so thoughtful and delicate about how Worth deals with grief that in the film offering just a bit less, we end up feeling that much more. A scene where Stanley Tucci, as a bereaved husband, finds the tupperware that contained the chicken picante his wife left for him that day – requiring him to steady himself before peeling off the handwritten label and gently placing it on the wall – is so devastating for its quietness and specificity, that moment many of us know well when a simple trigger unleashes a wave of despair. Colangelo allows generous breathing space for a string of one-scene characters to tell their stories, of the last calls and last memories, without a heavy, heartstring-yanking swell of music and they do so without resorting to overblown histrionics. We’re with them as they share their darkest moments rather than feeling far removed. It’s almost like watching a documentary, Colangelo modeling each one on a real-life grieving family member, small details changed.
These effectively intimate, mostly heartbreaking, testimonies are contrasted with the intimidating scale of the far less personal job at hand – of figuring out a just way to administer the right money to the right person – Colangelo smartly reminding us of the bigger picture without needing to dramatically extend the canvas. Worth is a small, direct film, mostly taking place in drab corporate offices, where the grey corridors and conference rooms prioritise professionalism over emotion. Watching the latter then slowly seep into the jobs and lives of the lawyers who have worked hard at denying it for most of their careers is like watching the colour rush into the town of Pleasantville, an exhale of relief in a way, no longer denying your primal reaction to something so overwhelming. We see it as Amy Ryan’s character calls the boyfriend of a man who died that day, whom the law refuses to recognise as his partner, and when Keaton’s Feinberg is blindsided by a sudden visit by a grieving wife (Laura Benanti), moments that would be traditionally be seen as weakness instead emerging as great strength.
The relative speed at which Hollywood chooses to respond to a major real world event, a desire to be first no matter the cost, has historically led to projects that don’t often tell a difficult story in the most effective way or at the right time. Even at five years out, the one-two punch of United 93 and World Trade Center was deemed too soon by many, neither film worthy of such a rush anyway. Twenty years after the towers fell, with ample time to reflect and re-examine, Worth brings thoughtfulness and grace to a subgenre that’s struggled to find either. The bar might be low but Worth has raised it high.
- Worth is available on Netflix now
Why Worth Was Right Not To Show The Terrorist Attack
Netflix’s Worth was right not to show the 9/11 terrorist attack because dramatizing the attack would have pulled focus from the main story.BY AUTUMN CEJERPUBLISHED 3 DAYS AGO
Netflix’s Worth was right not to show the 9/11 terrorist attack. Worth tells the true story of the lawyer Kenneth “Ken” Feinberg (Michael Keaton) who was appointed by Congress to determine the financial amount to be distributed to each of the victims after the tragedy. From iconic heroes like Batman to the worst villains, Keaton has played all types of characters. In Worth, he is the Special Master of the Victim Compensation Fund who must try to put a price tag on human life.
Although the film obviously revolves around the 9/11 attacks, it never really shows them. The violence of the attack is not depicted, and the devastation is largely alluded to rather than dramatized. Worth does not try to immerse the viewer in the violence — instead, it emphasizes the tragedy of the lives lost with details such as the endless wall of missing person posters. The movie rightly understands that audiences do not need to see this tragedy unfold in order to comprehend its devastating impact.
Worth is not a movie about 9/11, but about its impact on individuals afterward. Depicting the actual attack would have distracted from the movie’s focus on the true stories of the survivors and victims’ families, giving the spotlight to people like widower Charles Wolf (Stanley Tucci) who founded the “Fight the Fund” advocacy group. Tucci plays a grief-stricken man who just wants the Victim Compensation Fund to be fair. By focusing on individual stories of those affected by the attack, the audience can achieve a greater understanding of 9/11’s effect on the American population.
Ken learns of the attack while on a train, eventually seeing the billowing smoke from the Pentagon in the distance — but viewers only see the smoke via the window’s reflection, with Keaton’s look of distraught disbelief being the focus of the image. In this way, audiences have no choice but to experience the events secondhand by taking in Ken’s response. Although some films based on tragedies, like Titanic, might prioritize the event over real people to create a more visually exciting movie, Worth leans away from these inclinations. The closest Worth gets to recreating the 9/11 attack is in the very beginning: The movie opens with a blank screen as viewers hear sounds of planes flying overhead, sirens, and then voices. People attempt to describe how they feel through the shock at losing so many lives so suddenly. This is followed by a close-up of a woman talking about her deceased son.
Emphasizing intimate losses helps the 2021 movie Worth honor the events of 9/11 without exploiting the tragedy for cheap thrills. Ultimately, the Netflix film did not focus on the 9/11 terrorist attacks because doing so would have been disrespectful to the survivors and victims’ families, who were the real focus of the film. Worth does include short clips of archive news footage, but even this small amount of footage from that day is enough to give audiences chills.