Sincere but dry, director Sarah Colangelo’s Worth, which is set in the early 2000s, is a poignant but poky paced 9/11 drama that chronicles the story of the 9/11 Victims’ Compensation Fund. A fund that was an act of Congress to help ease the suffering of the families who lost family members and loved ones on that fatal day, which also prevented people suing the two major airlines that were hijacked that day.
The film raises some ethical and moral questions on the value of life, and how everyone died the same, and how is a firefighter’s life worth less than a Fortune 500 CEOs because they earn more money and they have more lavish homes and higher mortgages and so on These are the moral conundrums and questions the people that manage the fund have to answer, while maintaining public trust and finding justice, even though no amount of money can ever bring people’s loved ones.
Structured as a political drama and a procedural thriller, the film chronicles the real-life legal challenges of attorney Ken Feinberg (Michael Keaton) and his legal team attempting to have over 7000 family members of the 9/11 victims to sign up for compensation fund only to be met with distrust, corporatism, and politics that all hold their own agendas and perspectives in finding atonement on that tragic day.
One of the film’s strongest elements in how it captures the grueling and tedious process of being a lawyer and attempting to work for victims families (the long periods of convincing hundreds and eventually thousands of individuals to accept the money, the failed attempts in building trust, the compromises, the long wait for leads, the heartbreaking stories of the event, and the soul searching) as well as the goal in meeting deadlines, when the process is really trying to find satisfaction and justice.
The film, released by Netflix, is quite apolitical as well. Staring off in the later days of 200, just a few weeks from 2001, during the first year of Bush-Cheney’s first year in office, Worth makes very little commentary on the Iraq War, geo-political politics, and other political commentary and primarily focuses on the attorney and the families trying to find some reasonable ground to find some sort of justice for their loss.
Worth brings reelection and surface back to the agony and implications of 9/11. Eventually Ken Feinberg and his firm went to represent clients in other settlements including other tragedies such as Aurora victim relief, BP Gas Oil Spill, GM car recall, among many more. This film explores how the American political system works, how laws are made to protect corporations over the public interest, and the film is a reminder on why the public holds such distrust in our institutions, political process, and leaders and how people vote against their best interest due to years of dishonest, incompetency, and abuse from our elected leaders who write laws that benefit the corporations.
The main premise of the film focuses on attorneys Ken Feinberg and Camille Biros (Amy Ryan), who are supervising the fund, and Charles Wolf (Stanley Tucci), a musician, businessman, and activist tragically lost his wife in the Two Tower attacks, and while he respects Ken, he believes the formula Ken is following is deeply flawed. He ends up starting his own website to rebuttal the problems of Ken’s strategies and formulas to account for how the money is split called FixtheFund.org. Each of the scenes of Keaton and Tucci shine together, as both men may be at odds together on agreeing in finding the answers in how to allocate the funds, and how to assist certain victims in finding closure, but both are decent men that discover they both share a huge love for opera and classical music. There a lot of the scenes of Keaton struggling to find answers and talking with victims’ as they recollect their final moments and phone calls from their loved ones on 9/11 resonate the most.
Amy Ryan is also quite strong as Ken’s second in command, and Shunori Ramantathan ends up paving the way for empathy as a new associate in Ken’s firm who missed being in the WTC by a week as she was just hired in the building. Other strong moments include a divide of a white board that shows the percentage of sign-ups that feels feels impossible to hit 100%, and the two accounts from the victims family and love ones involving a man who will get nothing in the fund because the home state doesn’t recognize gay unions, and a firefighters wife doesn’t want any money at all–only to learn that he had a secret life with two daughters she didn’t about. That particular story feels the most draggy and almost feels like it belonged in a TV melodrama. Part character study, part procedural, the film is really a familiar study we have watched before with some sentimental detours that luckily never feel too schmaltzy. While the film has many solid moments, strong performances, and some engaging exchanges, sadly as a whole the film becomes quite conventional and not quite as gripping as it plays the complex material way too safe and pedestrian for its own good.