How much is a life worth? That’s the question Netflix’s new film Worth focuses on while telling the story of the U.S. government’s allocation of money from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. The film begins on one of the most horrifying days in American history – September 11, 2001.
The fund was created in an attempt to prevent a gigantic lawsuit against the airlines, which the government feared could crush the economy. Renowned attorney Ken Feinberg (Oscar nominee Michael Keaton, Birdman) is appointed by Congress a few weeks later to be the Special Master of the fund and is charged with developing a formula for figuring out what each life lost was worth to their surviving loved ones. Feinberg offers to do the job pro bono because he sees it as an opportunity to serve his country and to aid families who are suffering.
Feinberg and his firm’s head of operations, Camille Biros (Oscar nominee Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone), approach the daunting task by coming up with a baseline figure and going up from there, taking into account life insurance, salary, and equity of each individual who died in the attacks. When Feinberg presents the first draft of the compensation fund at a town hall, he’s met with anger, outrage, and tears from grieving family members turned off by his cold and arrogant demeanor.
As the disastrous meeting wraps up, Feinberg meets Charles Wolf (Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones), a community organizer who lost his wife in the attacks. Wolf tells Feinberg he finds the victim compensation fund insulting and promises to be his biggest critic. To that end, Wolf starts the Fix the Fund website which quickly gains momentum among the victims’ families.
As Feinberg and his firm conduct interview after interview with grieving family members and face the deadline of getting 80% of the cases to sign on to their proposed dispensation of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, Feinberg slowly starts to realize just how difficult the job is. Finally, only weeks out from the deadline, it becomes clear to Feinberg that in order to convince the victim’s families to sign on he must find a way to calculate each case so that the surviving family members feel their needs will be met. And, more importantly, that their feelings and lost loved ones are respected.
Based on actual events, Worth is an intriguing film with excellent performances and intelligent writing. It tackles a somber and heavy subject without ever getting maudlin.
Michael Keaton delivers another incredible performance as Ken Feinberg, the highly respected and successful lawyer who views creating the victim compensation fund as a service to his country. Keaton wonderfully displays Feinberg’s slow shift in his approach to how he interacts with the families he’s trying to help and ultimately to how the fund will be distributed.
The film’s version of Feinberg takes him from being distant, a man who speaks in soundbites and passes the families off to his colleagues and employees to speak with, to a man deeply affected by listening to these strangers talk about their lost loved ones and how 9/11 has changed their lives forever. Keaton portrays Feinberg extremely realistically and avoids ever being overly sentimental.
Amy Ryan delivers a flawless performance as Feinberg’s deputy Camille Biros. The empathy she subtly shows toward the victims as they tell their terrible, heart-wrenching stories of talking to their loved ones moments before they died feels incredibly authentic and genuinely moving.
Stanley Tucci delivers yet again another exceptional performance as Charles Wolf, a survivor who begins as Feinberg’s biggest critic and eventually becomes key in Feinberg finally connecting with the needs of the families he’s trying to help. Some of the best scenes in the film are between Keaton and Tucci.
The production, set design, and costumes are all solid, bringing back to life the look and feel of New York, Washington, and Virginia in the days and months after the 9/11 attacks.
Powerful and somber, Worth is a dynamic yet sensitive film that makes the case that every single person is unique as is every loss felt by a family member.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some strong language and thematic elements
Premiere Date: September 3, 2021
Running Time: 1 hour 58 minutes
Directed By: Sara Colangelo (The Kindergarten Teacher, Little Accidents)