“Worth” is based on a remarkable true story — with one of the worst tragedies in American history as a backdrop. If it wasn’t true… if Kenneth Feinberg wasn’t a real person… there’s no way this movie could’ve been made. But writer Max Borenstein (of WB’s Monsterverse films) and director Sara Colangelo (“The Kindergarten Teacher”) transform Feinberg’s 2005 memoir into a powerful and authentically emotional experience.
Michael Keaton plays Feinberg, a Washington, D.C. attorney whose specialty is mediation. Shortly after the horrific events of September 11th, 2001, he was appointed Special Master of the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund. Feinberg and his team (including Camille Biros, played by Amy Ryan) were charged with calculating the monetary reward family members of the 9/11 victims would receive. The government set-up the fund to prevent individual lawsuits being brought against the airlines, which could have destroyed the U.S. economy. Feinberg had two years to convince at least 80% of eligible families to take the deal.
To do so he had to calculate what each victim’s life was worth — in dollars. This process was nothing new to seasoned lawyer. But this time, he discovers, relying of statistics and actuary tables won’t work.
Colangelo masterfully balances overwhelming, heartbreaking stories of relatives and friends of those killed in the attacks with the classic tale of a “regular guy” racing against the clock to beat the odds. On paper, the idea of using the 9/11 tragedy in such a way may have seemed manipulative and borderline malicious. But as it plays out on screen “Worth” is a triumph, successfully achieving both goals. This is a corporate thriller that honors its subject matter at the highest level.
Keaton (no surprise) is outstanding. It’s the kind of ‘everyman with a goal’ role Kevin Costner or Tom Hanks might’ve taken on 8-10 years ago. In fact, “Worth” reminds me a bit of Hanks’ 2015 “Bridge of Spies”. There are also some parallels to Keaton’s 2015 “Spotlight”, but even more effective.
In a career filled with flashy roles (Batman, Birdman, Beetlejuice and even Ray Kroc in “The Founder”), Keaton’s work here will be the subtle powerhouse performance that defines him as an actor. Ryan (who Keaton co-starred with in “Birdman”) is equally triumphant and should be in every Best Supporting Actress race.
And then there’s Stanley Tucci. He plays Charles Wolf, a NYC husband whose wife died when the first plane struck the World Trade Center. He doesn’t agree with how Feinberg is handling the fund. He sets-up a “Fix the Fund” website, becoming an advocate for all the suffering families. These two men become foes. Their scenes together aren’t showdowns in the classic sense but add a quiet intensity.
“Worth” is incredibly relevant and meaningful, especially as the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches. There’s a reason why (following an initial debut at Sundance in January 2020), Netflix held its release until now. This film isn’t designed to exploit the tragedy. Instead, “Worth” is about recognizing those who wanted to do the right thing under the worst possible circumstances — and the importance of allowing everyone to be heard.