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Worth: What Is The Value Of A Life?

Written by Mike

Worth is a Netflix film released on September 3rd 2021. The movie takes place during the aftermath of one of the worst tragedies in American history, 9/11. This is the story of the man who did something that no one else wanted to do; a task monumentally important, yet at the same time whoever took up the endeavor also took upon themselves a great responsibility and a great personal risk to their reputation and possibly their career. This is the story of Kenneth Feinberg, the man who volunteered to be the “Special Master” that decided how the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund was divided among those affected by that tragic event.

There are some interesting bureaucratic technicalities surrounding the legislative interventions after 9/11 that are revealed in the film. Long story short, the United States government stepped in to make payments to the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in lieu of insurance payouts by the airlines that may or may not have been found liable in civil court cases. The government did this with taxpayers’ money through the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Kenneth Feinberg (Michael Keaton) was made “Special Master” of this fund, giving him absolute decision-making power over how the money would be divided. The story follows Feinberg, Camille Biros (Amy Ryan), and their law firm as they handle the fund and decide the value of each of the lives lost.

The conflicts presented throughout the 2-hour runtime are all simple, but very emotionally and morally driven. Imagine having such an unspeakably terribly tragedy happen, and being the person given ultimate power to make it right; except you there is no way to make it right. These are real people whose losses cannot be compensated. The goal is then to do the best you can knowing that you will not heal the people who are satisfied with your decisions, and understanding that there is no way to satisfy everyone. The real story here is about Kenneth Feinberg himself as he not only struggles to answer the question “what is a life worth”, but also decides how to wield the massive amount of power given to him. There are arguments amongst claimants about whether they will be paid fair amounts based on the rubric made by Kenneth’s law firm; there are also specific “special circumstances” that are brought up throughout the movie. This leads the team of lawyers to ask themselves “how do you deal with these special circumstances?”, “Can we change the rules for everyone?”, and “Is it appropriate to make special concessions?”.

The actual structure of the movie mostly sees the members of Feinberg’s law firm interviewing survivors and surviving families as they try to make decisions for the fund and convince everyone that signing onto the fund is in their best interest. The stories of what happened that day are horrific and touching to see brought to life. Along with hearing heartfelt stories, we are walked through the extremely difficult decision-making process of figuring out how much to pay each family based on a variety of factors. While Feinberg starts off rigid in his way of seeing how things should be done, interaction with the people involved with the fund softens him, and makes him realize that certain aspects of the situation are more complicated than they first appeared.

Most of the focus of the film is on Michael Keaton as Kenneth Feinberg, and the veteran actor does not disappoint. The weight of leadership in an impossible situation is truly shown through his performance. Amy Ryan also does a great job of displaying the emotional weight that her character, and the real-life Camille Biros for that matter, felt as she dealt with all the pain and suffering brought about by this terrible event. Stanley Tucci as Charles Wolf also deserves a mention. Mr. Wolf was a real-life hero whose passion, displayed beautifully by Tucci, empowered him to advocate for others affected by 9/11 and push for major changes to the compensation fund.

Worth is a lesson in what it means to be a leader and decision-maker. People in positions of authority should watch this movie and pay attention. Decisions that affect peoples’ lives are important and should not be made lightly. Furthermore, I would also say that there are times, more often than many would think, when authority figures should use their power in more meaningful ways than operating as “business as usual” to maintain the status quo or save face with those around them. This movie explores the decision-making process when making important, life altering choices, and does it beautifully through great writing, acting, and dialogue. I give Worth a rating of Excellent on my five-tiered scale (Excellent, Above Average, Average, Below Average, Bad).

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