If you enjoyed the energetic procedural drama of Spotlight, as well as two of its central performers Michael Keaton and Stanley Tucci, then Worth practically demands your attention. Directed by Sara Colangelo (The Kindergarten Teacher) and written by Max Borenstein (Godzilla: King of the Monsters), Worth unfurls the dicey aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 as it concerns the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund.
As the film explains in one of its many fast-moving expositional duels, the American government has to sign on at least 80% of its allotted victim pool to accept damages for the loss of their loved ones. That way, thousands of people won’t be able to sue the airlines and crash the economy as litigation would take decades. The problem is that apparently, not everyone can be paid the same amount because a CFO had a larger “economic impact” than a dishwasher, so the respective families are forced to consider the number assigned to the value of a human life they’re still grieving.
Enter Kenneth Feinberg (Michael Keaton) and Camille Biros (Amy Ryan) as two seasoned lawyers who handle cases like this all the time, only now they’re tasked with something far more personal and challenging than they’ve ever encountered, particularly when one of the victims, Charles Wolf (Stanley Tucci), begins to publicly and loudly decry the fund as unfair, making things even more complicated for their law firm.
At times, Worth moves a little too quickly through its runtime, rushing past important moments that could have taken the time to be built and up established, like how Wolf manages to accumulate trust with the 9/11 community. But the film’s quick pace is also a feature, as we never linger too long on the less interesting details of this story.
The film actually gives these real-life stories plenty of time to breathe and strike a chord with both the audience and the main characters, who begin this process beholden to a list of numbers and formulas they believe will ensure a successful distribution of money. Feinberg especially approaches the situation as a willful arbiter, trying to remove himself from making things personal with these people in order to preserve rules over human lives.
Worth is a quite a cut above other true story dramas of its kind in the way it actively involves everyone watching it. There are no easy answers to the central question, “What is a life worth?” But we so dearly want there to be, just like Feinberg and the rest. The film takes a few narrative shortcuts to settle its case, and the ending will likely be divisive due to its choice of tone and emotional resolution. But even the simple thrill of having a conversation this difficult all these years later is commendable, and Worth will no doubt be a worthwhile catalyst for future discussions, even philosophical ones, about the way we treat others (and their stories) when disaster strikes.
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