Viewers are introduced to attorney Kenneth Fienberg (Michael Keaton) as he stands in front of a class of law students, posing the question of how much a human life is worth. It’s not a philosophical quandary, he jokes. In the realms of compensation and law this question must be answered with a numerical value. To him, this isn’t a question of morality – it’s about rationale and negotiation. However, when he’s chosen by Congress to spearhead the compensation fund for victims of 9/11, Fienberg is confronted with the moral dilemma of this question for himself.
Setting up a compensation fund may not sound like the most exciting premise for a drama, but director Sara Colangelo’s (The Kindergarten Teacher) Worth draws upon the raw, human elements of this real-life story in a way that accentuates how fine the line between legality and morality is. Driving this portion of the script (penned by Max Borenstein) are the understated performances by Keaton and Stanley Tucci, who plays Charles Wolf, a vocal critic of Fienberg’s pay-out scheme. It’s through this central conflict that Worth develops its primary themes, executed gracefully by the veteran actors.
Moreover, this film is as much a story about the victims’ families as it is the lawyer. Large portions of the screenplay are dedicated to hearing the harrowing tales of those who, for numerous legal reasons, fall outside the compensation scheme. Though it’s unclear how many of these specific situations really occurred, they nevertheless highlight some of the difficulties that come with putting a value on a human life.
Unfortunately, the script choses to spend too much of its time listening to victims’ accounts than digging further into the explorations of the political, moral and legal themes lying at the heart of the script. Apart from a handful of cases, many of these stories add little to the film’s discussion that hasn’t already been said. They often bring the pace to a crawl and come close to turning the drama into melodrama.
Led by nuanced performances from Keaton and Tucci, Worth is a thoughtful drama that confronts viewers with impossible questions in some moments while missing the mark at others.
Worth is released on Netflix on 3rd September 2021.
Watch the trailer for Worth here: