Directed by Sara Colangelo.
Starring Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, Amy Ryan, Tate Donovan, Talia Balsam, Laura Benanti, Marc Maron, Bruce Soscia, Chris Tardio, Shunori Ramanathan, Victor Slezak, Alfredo Narciso, Zuzanna Szadkowski, E.R. Ruiz, Wass Stevens, and Steve Vinovich.
An attorney in Washington D.C. battles against cynicism, bureaucracy and politics to help the victims of 9/11.
Shortly after the unfathomable terrorist attacks on 9/11, Attorney Ken Feinberg (Michael Keaton turning in his best work since Birdman, here in Worth as a figure in a position of power that maintains sympathy while in a complicated situation to navigate) willingly takes on the seemingly impossible task of heading up the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, crunching the numbers to objectively place a value on the cost of each life lost. We know he’s qualified for the job as the film opens up with him teaching a university class, getting them involved in a mock trial about a settlement for a farming-related death.
Of course, that’s just an imaginary body and doesn’t hold a candle to the 6,000 or so grieving individuals Ken has to get on board for such a cause to fight off economic collapse at the hands of everyone suing airline companies and more. Putting together a committee of sorts, instructing the likes of assistants Camille Biros (Amy Ryan) and survivor’s guilt-ridden Priya (a standout Shunori Ramanathan making the most of an intriguing supporting player who initially had plans that would have made her another casualty), they work together discussing various eligibility circumstances. Essentially, Ken is tasked with inventing a mathematical formula that would deliver an appropriate compensation payout based on aspects such as occupation, mortgage, and family. Naturally, it’s a system that benefits those already wealthy, with the less fortunate receiving, in comparison, peanuts.
Unsurprisingly, when Ken holds his first hearing (complete with pamphlets handed out detailing the whole unfair solution), there is civil outrage. No one is buying whatever he is selling, and it’s hard to blame them. However, it’s important to note (and this is where the complexity of Michael Keaton’s performance comes into play) that he is not a societal monster compared to some of the higher-ups he is working for who genuinely don’t give a damn about the ordinary citizen. Simply put, he is a numbers guy approaching the job objectively without actually being in the midst of the ongoing suffering from thousands of families.
Meanwhile, community service organizer Charles Wolf (a passionate Stanley Tucci stealing some scenes, sometimes in the same frame as Michael Keaton) further points out the structural flaws in this plan while also connecting with those hurting more empathetic and personal. It’s not long before he has majority support (even the website he has created titled “Fix the Fund” is receiving twice as many daily visitors as the official fundraiser website) with Ken and his team floundering in concern over whether or not they can meet the 80% opt-in quota (the minimum requirement to stave off economic collapse). Beautifully, there’s also no hatred or screaming between the opposing organizers, but rather a respectful understanding that they are on different sides of the equation and doing what they individually believe to be right.
Frequently working late hours (also with the requisite cliché moment of Ken so deep in his work, it doesn’t dawn on him until later that he has missed out on opportunities to meet up with his adult children and their families), one night after the rest of the staff is long gone, a woman enters. She happens to be named Karen (Laura Benanti) and is the sister-in-law of Frank (Chris Tardio), who had previously voiced his displeasure regarding compensation plans at the town hall meeting. All she wants to do is talk, although she is surprised that Ken isn’t jotting down notes or hasn’t turned on a tape recorder. He retorts that his stenographer has gone home for the day. At this moment, it becomes more apparent than ever Ken is so mission-focused that he hasn’t even bothered to really hear the stories of the victims, and now, even in a situation where he is being blessed with doing so, he appears dumbfounded at the concept of documenting the conversation. It’s another one of those small brilliant moments from Michael Keaton.
Call it a moment of clarity, if you will, as it results in Ken seeking out more victims and listening to more stories. Among them is a gay lover who would receive compensation in a just society and not his boyfriend’s family, who shamed his homosexuality. However, some rules can’t be bent as the compensation committee also has to abide by state laws, which in this specific case would be close-minded Virginia. Additionally, there are so many interviews with grieving family members here that Worth occasionally takes on the feel of a gripping documentary; some of what’s recounted can feel that authentic even if it’s also going for tears. Perhaps most engaging is a case of adultery that develops in which one widow would have to share her compensation with the second family of her late husband she never knew about. Naturally, it falls on Ken to break this news, as if he’s not already stressed out enough.
With all that said, Worth does have an aura of familiarity and dryness holding it back from greatness. The script from Max Borenstein fares stronger than the direction from Sara Sara Colangelo (really shifting gears considering her previous effort was the thrilling The Kindergartener Teacher), but the story is drenched in humanity, empathy, and outstanding acting. The story explores as many unique cases as it can for those seeking compensation, meaning that the net for compassion is also cast wide while mostly avoiding emotional manipulation.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com