What is the worth of a person who cleans toilets for thirty years? Or of another who resides over a boardroom for five? Does their yearly income determine their value? Or does their overall quality of the life define their legacy? Or, rather, are all humans fundamentally equal?
These are age old questions of class warfare, which society faces every day. In legal terms, there are definitions to the disparity and insurance companies are governed by such distinctions. When determinations of worth are made on a case-by-case basis, they can seem reasonable, and indeed, invaluable to families faced with the loss of loved ones. But what happens when the casualties of one event run into the multiple thousands, and how is compensation rationed fairly?
This is the bottom line of Netflix release Worth, the true story of Kenneth Feinberg, an American attorney appointed as Special Master of the US Government’s September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Following the collapse of the Twin Towers in 2001, the film chronicles the government’s scramble to effectively establish compensation that not only distributes money to the victims and their families, but also appeases vested entities like the airlines who apply pressure to the process in order to effectively pass the buck.
Needless to say, it is a very complicated process and Worth attempts to simplify it for those of us laymen watching from home. Michael Keaton plays Feinberg, a highly respected mediation and resolution lawyer who takes on the role as a pro-bono case out of a sense of duty. He is in it for all the right reasons; however, he is also out of touch with the reality of the situation. Never has he taken on a case of such magnitude, nor has he been face to face with so many grieving clients at once. With a deadline approaching, he needs to attach 80% of the victims to the Compensation Fund and the way to do that is by creating a formula of economic value.
His strategy relies on emotional detachment and when victims turn their backs on him, it becomes clear that something isn’t right with the system. Pressure mounts from higher up and Feinberg finds himself opposed by an intelligent widower, played by Stanley Tucci, who not only identified countless flaws in the Fund’s structure, but also gained popularity with his “Fix the Fund” online movement.
Again, there are complexities at play and the film wisely focuses its attention on just a few pivotal cases, two of which were chosen for dramatic purpose, with one – I assume – selected for the sake of a contemporary social commentary.
I can think of no historical event in modern history that has been more life-altering than the attacks on America on September 11. The world we live in to this day and the functions of society are of a direct result of that moment in time, and while so many films have told that story from various perspectives, Worth attempts to explore the fundamental issue of actual human value. It succeeds, to a point, and does tug on specific heartstrings, however the inevitable narrowing of the story also diminishes its palpability.
Keaton is predisposed for films like this, and he wipes the floor with his supporting cast. With films like Spotlight, The Founder and Trial of the Chicago 7 under his belt, he arrives at Worth primed and ready. Keaton’s character arc is wonderful to watch, although this is owed entirely to his performance and not so much the script, which never effectively fills in the gaps between key moments in the Fund’s process. Stanley Tucci also delivers a knock-out performance, despite being given less screen time than his character actually deserves. It isn’t often that we beg for films to be longer, but in this instance that’s exactly what’s required. At a running time of 120 minutes, Worth manages to just scratch the surface of this historical landmark moment in time, and it doesn’t reach the scope required to encompass the story. The script came from Hollywood’s famous blacklist in 2008 with Netflix acquiring the distribution rights, but had they fostered this project from the outset they would have been wiser to adapt it as a longer event series.
As it is, Worth is a fascinating look into the inner workings of a specific part of government administration and the methods by which human life is costed. It is well acted by all and director Sara Colangelo (Little Accidents) wrings every drop of integrity and compassion from an otherwise sparse and lacklustre script.
‘Worth’ is now streaming on Netflix – right HERE.
You can also watch/listen to the above review…
And watch the film’s trailer…