Placing a monetary value on a human life after such an unprecedented, horrific tragedy as the September 11th terrorist attacks is a contentious, harrowing process that elicits and exacerbates such raw emotions as anger, devastation and sadness amongst its victims. The new biographical film, Worth, which is based on the 2005 book, What Is Life Worth?, by attorney and mediation expert, Kenneth Feinberg, powerfully showcases his struggle to fairly compensate the victims and their families of the heinous crime. The historical thriller, which was written by Max Borenstein and directed by Sara Colangelo, enthralling delves into how people’s struggle to survive after a catastrophe can ultimately impact the morals of their entire country.
Worth follows Feinberg (Michael Keaton, who also served as a producer), as he’s appointed by Attorney General John Ashcroft (Victor Slezak) to serve as the Special Master of the U.S. government’s September 11th Victim Compensation Fund weeks after the attacks. Feinberg hopes that the program will provide fair compensation to families that lost their other loved ones during the terrorist attacks on America.
However, the mediation expert soon realizes that the fund is flawed; it’s not designed for the victims and their families, but instead to prevent the them from suing the airline companies. The government fears that if the companies are bankrupted as a result of a potential lawsuit, it could destroy the entire economy and disrupt all domestic travel.
Even worse, the fund states that the families’ compensation will be tied to the deceased victims’ salary and lost future income. As a result, Feinberg must contend with negotiating with the wealthy victims’ lawyers, who insist that he also needs to add in their projected bonuses. Meanwhile, his second-in-command, Camille Biros (Amy Ryan), has to offer lower-income and immigrant families reduced compensation rates, much to their dismay.
With only two years to convince the victims and their families to accept the compensation that’s been determined for them by a formula created by the government, Feinberg initially supports the program’s stance that he can’t bend the roles to help individual cases. But after he meets Charles Wolf (Stanley Tucci), a 9/11 widower and activist who set out to inform the public about the true intentions behind the fund, Feinberg begins to reconsider his steadfast stance on how the victims should be compensated.
Worth is the rare historical biographical movie that evokes relatable emotion and urgency for activism by emphasizing the value of finding closure during difficult times, instead of just the political fallout during those tragedies. Borenstein humanized the process of compensating the victims and their families of the September 11th attacks by crafting diverse, layered activists who continuously fought for their rights throughout the script.
The screenwriter particularly complex, multi-dimensional protagonist in Feinberg, who was powerfully brought to the screen by Keaton. The Oscar-nominated actor showcases that upon being appointed as the Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, the lawyer-activist feels an urgent need to help support the victims and their families, but he also struggles with staying within the boundaries of the law during the process.
Colangelo helped maintain the intricate, complicated and ever-evolving emotions of Feinberg, his fellow government workers and the victims and their families during their fight for fair compensation by not incorporating the actual news footage from the attacks into the drama. Instead, the director and the film’s cinematographer, Pepe Avila del Pino, showcased the characters’ determination to achieve their goal of helping those affected by the attacks through subtle shots of their body language and reactions.
Worth is a provocative, emotional historical thriller that isn’t afraid to delve into the morals of American politics, particularly in how many government leaders refuse to allow sentiment or reason influence their decisions regarding the citizens they serve. Keaton notably showcased Feinberg’s complicated arc during his two-year investigation into how to best compensate the victims and their families of the September 11th attacks, as he contemplated whether or not everyone’s worth was equal. Also driven by stellar visual shots that chronicle how the stress of either supporting or opposing the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund affected the story’s distinct characters, the movie is a vital entry in the historical political genre.
Worth is now playing in select theaters and on Netflix.