Director Sara Colangelo wastes no time in her latest motion picture Worth. As Kenneth Feinberg, Michael Keaton asks a class he is teaching what is the worth of a human life. This is no philosophy class. Feinberg wants the students to place a monetary value on life. When the class gets into a serious discussion about the subject that comes to a conclusion, the audience knows they are in for something different.
Worth is the real life story of Feinberg. The attorney has been tasked by United States government to figure out the value in order to put together a compensation package for the families of those killed during the 9/11 attacks. The lawyer must deal with the families, the government, the airlines, and his own opinions on life and finances.
Chances are a movie with Keaton and Stanley Tucci is going to have strong acting. Worth lives up to these lofty expectations. Tucci is great as Charles Wolf. Wolf is a complicated character. His wife was in the World Trade Center during the attacks. He seems to agree with the spirit of what Feinberg is attempting to do but not how is going about it. Essentially, he is the film’s conscience. Playing angel and devil, Wolf is more interested in pointing Feinberg in the right direction than telling him what to do.
Tucci does an excellent job in a subdued role. Wolf is more content to have conversations with Feinberg than to shout him down. This is what makes Tucci’s performance so great. Wolf is obviously pained – he speaks up against Feinberg throughout the movie. Tucci’s excellence is in how he is able to play such a layered character without ever contradicting himself. Wolf adds gravity to what Feinberg is trying to accomplish. He is willing to listen to the attorney while also telling him in no uncertain terms he is incorrect.
This is where Worth is at its best. Colangelo’s movie is about people. Watching the characters interact adds emotion to the uncompromising logic of the story. The exchanges between Feinberg and Wolf may be the most stirring, but Feinberg’s entire life is based around conflicts with others. The film does a great job building the internal struggle within Feinberg by using every conversation he is involved in.
Feinberg is one of the interesting characters seen on film in years. Early on, audiences get insight into how the attorney feels about human life and financial compensation. He is not a cold, heartless man; he just looks at life in a matter of fact manner. Over the course of Worth, he is forced to figure out more than the value of a human life.
Worth sounds like it is will be content to manipulate the emotions of the audience. Instead, it tells a well crafted story that allows those watching to make their own decisions. Feinberg himself is a wonderful example of the movie not trying to steer feelings in any direction. He has a clear character arc over the course of the movie. Still, he does not stray far from his true feelings. The change is noticeable and surprising at the same time.
This is not to say the film is not touching. Any movie that deals with 9/11 is either going to be exploitative or poignant. There is no middle ground with the topic. Worth is a powerful movie that never takes advantage of the subject matter. The emotional moments are earned through its strong characters and excellent storytelling.
The premise alone makes Worth an interesting movie to watch. What separates it from similar films that rely on emotional gut punches are the strong characters and excellent writing. Director Sara Colangelo chooses to tell a more subdued story that draws audiences in thanks to its nuanced script. By going a the least expected route, Worth never panders to its audience and is a better film for it.