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Review: Worth (2021)

Worth (2021)

Directed by: Sara Colangelo

Premise: Based on true events. Attorney Kenneth Feinberg (Michael Keaton) administers the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. He struggles to devise a satisfactory way of accounting for each victim’s financial value.

What Works: Throughout the pantheon of 9/11 moviemaking, there has been a lot of emphasis on terrorism and counterterrorism and the violent retaliation to the attack. But one aspect that’s been underplayed in the many 9/11 dramas has been the experience of survivors. It’s a curious omission since survivors, either immediate or tangential, represent the biggest group touched by the terrorist attack. Worth is a movie about them and it focuses on the emotional and financial gap that 9/11 tore into people’s lives. The picture entertains a provocative and complicated question: what is the worth of a human being? That’s an intangible question that requires a tangible answer and the filmmakers dig into the difficulty of confronting it. That difficulty is represented by two opposing characters. Attorney Kenneth Feinberg, played by Michael Keaton, is a lawyer whose focus is on the nuts and bolts of managing the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund in a way that is mathematically sound. He’s opposed by Charles Wolf, played by Stanley Tucci, who lost his wife in the attack and demands that the fund be administered in ways that account for the nuances in people’s lives. Keaton is particularly good. He plays Feinberg as a number cruncher who approaches his work earnestly but doesn’t have a soothing bedside manner and is utterly unequipped to deal with the sensitivities of the bereaved. Worth is permeated with grief but the film is never maudlin about it. The picture is partly about the collective trauma of 9/11 and the way that trauma is shared. The law firm staff are impacted by their proximity to all of this grief and it clearly wears on them. But the shared trauma also leads to profound connections between people. Worth is not only about the individual stories but also about a social network of people connected by tragedy.  

What Doesn’t: The central question of Worth is how to assess the monetary value of a person’s life. The film never really settles that issue. If anything, the implication is that life is too nuanced to definitively answer that question. But these characters did ultimately have to come up with an answer and the filmmakers stay out of the complexities of assessing each payout.

DVD extras: Currently on Netflix.

Bottom Line: Worth is one of the better 9/11 dramas. The film is distinguished by its focus on survivors and the process of grieving and it handles those sensitive topics very well. But the film also leaves viewers with an appropriately hopeful conclusion that points to shared humanity and community.

Episode: #868 (September 12, 2021)