Sara Colangelo’s “Worth” revolves around the central question of whether we can assign a dollar value to one’s life. Newly added to Netflix last week, “Worth” tells the story of The Victim’s Compensation Fund that was created for the surviving families of those killed in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Michael Keaton stars as Kenneth Feinberg, a Boston lawyer appointed special master of the fund, who wrestles with assigning fiscal value to life, especially in the face of senseless violence. Over the course of two years, Feinberg builds parameters for payouts and convinces plaintiffs to sign on. He meets with grief-stricken families, pleading that life’s worth can’t be measured in money.
Colangelo picks a few families to centralize the story around. Stanley Tucci uses brilliant acting to portray a bold but patient widower, Charles Wolf, who leads the fund’s opposition. Laura Benetti plays a widow of an FDNY firefighter who struggles to accept her husband’s life as a number on a check.
Feinberg’s team of lawyers, headed by Camille Biros (played by Amy Ryan), the business manager of the firm, speak individually with the families. Those scenes are the most emotional of the film, and Colangelo makes us feel their grief. Colangelo’s decision to show the agony of 9/11 through the survivors’ stories alone is a welcomed one. We feel their emotion rather than the horror of viewing the buildings collapse.
Over the course of the story, Feinberg is forced into feeling empathy as the victims’ stories take a toll on his lawyer ego. He ultimately listens to Wolf (Tucci), who pleads for a more humanistic approach, where one janitor’s life is equal to the life of a CEO at Cantor Fitzgerald.
It would be wrong to judge the story on an entertainment level given the gravity of what happened on 9/11, but it’s accurate to say the film is well-acted and well-paced. It is a hard job for Colangelo to fit the grief of the victims’ families into a 1 hour and 58 minute window. At the end of the film, we are still left with the lingering question of whether a life can be reduced to a dollar value. Where the film succeeds in showing a 9/11 perspective new to the entertainment world, it falls short of answering the fundamental questions it seeks to resolve. Perhaps it’s due to the weight the question holds, but nonetheless it’s what Colangelo chose to tackle. Regardless, the film is worth a view, even just to see Tucci and Keaton’s excellence.