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Review: Michael Keaton and Stanley Tucci find their 'Worth' in compelling 9/11 drama

Courtesy of Netflix


Nearing the 20th anniversary of the devastating attacks on 9/11/2001, dramatizations and documentaries galore are starting to surface. Over the years, several noteworthy films from “United 93” to “World Trade Center” have done their part highlighting the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. Few of those films, however, have dealt with the raw, tender trauma in the way Sara Colangelo’s compelling drama “Worth” does. Featuring two solid performances from Michael Keaton and Stanley Tucci, “Worth” dives into the logistics and behind the scenes turmoil from the perspective of lawyers running a 9/11 victim compensation fund and their algorithm to determine what is the literal value of human life.

Based on a true story, Keaton brings his usual leading man charm as real-life lawyer Kenneth Fienberg, who’s firm made a distinguishable reputation by settling massive cases around Agent Orange and others with his infamous style of number crunching. He’s a guy who can look at what’s written on the page-age, income, career, family-and slap a numerical value on it. It’s the type of closed door haggling that generally goes unreleased to the public, but Fienberg meets his match when called upon by congress, the president, and the airlines, who are worried about a potential civil lawsuit gaining traction from grieving family members, to operate the 9/11 victim compensation fund where participants agree they won’t sue, and in return will be awarded a tax-free lump sum Fienberg determines through his questionable algorithmic methods.

But, after the attacks on 9/11, the ways Fienberg does business isn’t the same. He’s facing an onslaught of bereaved victims, must sit down and look these people in the eyes while volleying insults and figuring out how to maneuver around inconsolable grief. Survivors of the attack begin pushing back and questioning motives. None more so than Tucci’s Charles Wolf, a 9/11 widower who started his own “Fix the Fund” organization in direct rebuke of Fienberg’s unethical doldrums. Several tough showdowns ensure, and the performers deliver career high performances. Neither actor is trying to upstage the other nor trying to pull on the heartstrings in a manipulative way. These are real people and, thankfully, they act and behave as such.

“Worth” isn’t flashy, but it chugs along in rather conventional methods. The main plot hinges on an impending deadline to get the compensation fund up and running, turning into a mad dash as Fienberg and his partner (Amy Ryan – excellent though underutilized) try to convert skeptics into commitments. It doesn’t have the necessary tension or urgency to sustain a nearly two-hour runtime, running out of steam at about the 80-minute mark. Still, Keaton and Tucci are operating in top form, arguing their points in sizzling tete-a-tete fashion, keeping us interested even if the momentum feels stifled.

“Worth” also makes the case for the value of all life regardless of economic and societal status. The world changed forever after September 11th, 2001 and 20 years later that message of compassion remains as strong and potent as it did back then. Hearing brutal testimonials (of which Max Borenstein’s script incorporates from firm documents and transcripts) and reliving the trauma of that day (the attacks are only briefly shown on screen) is a gut punch, but a necessary reminder of what we lost and how far we’ve come.

Grade: B

WORTH debuts on Netflix Friday, September 3rd


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