In historical drama Worth, a focus on the trivial and the creation of fictional characters detract from honoring real victims
How long before Hollywood tries to make a big-budget fictionalized romance about the 9/11 terrorist attacks like it did with Titanic? If Netflix’s new film Worth is any indication, that day may be coming soon.
While director Sara Colangelo certainly intends a serious, respectful film about the attacks that took place 20 years ago, Worth takes a step in the direction of giving 9/11 the Hollywood treatment: It dramatizes the insignificant, while not honoring true heroes and victims.
The story centers on Kenneth Feinberg (Michael Keaton), the government-appointed special master of the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund. Feinberg’s in a tough spot: The airlines whose planes were hijacked fear victims’ lawsuits could bankrupt their companies, which in turn could “grind the whole economy to a halt,” one politician says. And many victims’ families are balking at Feinberg’s compensation “formula” that values one dishwasher’s life at $350,000 and a CFO’s at $14.2 million.
“Their lives ended the same way,” a grieving mother sobs during Feinberg’s first meeting with families.
“Their mortgages did differ,” Feinberg retorts.
Feinberg’s lack of people skills may be his biggest obstacle to getting 80 percent of potential claimants to sign on to the government’s no-lawsuits agreement by December 2003. The film counts down—“23 months to deadline,” “17 months to deadline,” “3 weeks to deadline.” In light of the loss of life, viewers might not find this legal accomplishment significant enough to join in on the icky on-screen applause when Feinberg does succeed.
The misguided beat-the-clock tease isn’t the only thing that may put viewers off. The film (rated PG-13 for a few instances of strong language) builds the story around a puzzling pick of victims, particularly the fictional firefighter Nicholas Donato of Ladder Co. 179. As it turns out, besides his own family, he has two children by a mistress. So, one philandering fireman represents all 9/11 first responders? Then there’s the film’s cause célèbre, a gay man whose partner died at the Pentagon. Their home state of Virginia doesn’t recognize their domestic arrangement. Can Feinberg work around state laws to get him some money?
Another questionable call: Early in the film, a bulletin board plastered with flyers shows faces and names of missing people. The scene’s a poignant reminder of many families’ gut-wrenching wait for news of their loved ones. Yet the names on the board aren’t of real 9/11 victims. For example, “Mary Beth Minton, last seen on Floor 73” is actually a production manager for Worth. And missing person Pepe Avila del Pino? The film’s cinematographer.
On the upside, Feinberg may be Keaton’s best Gotham role. With a convincing Bronx accent, Keaton keenly plays a socially awkward number-crunching lawyer who begins to learn empathy. Also, viewers will agonize with families who struggle between commanding dignity for their lost loved ones and receiving financial help for a lifetime of lost wages.
Still, as Hollywood cinematizes tragedies, it would do well to remember that time isn’t the ultimate healer and instead often makes one heedless of others’ wounds.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to support WORLD's brand of Biblically sound journalism, click here.