Monday, January 27, 2020

Sundance with Abe: Worth

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.

Directed by Sara Colangelo

Putting a value on a person’s life is an inherently impossible task. Presuming that someone’s worth can be calculated using a formula and that any form of monetary disbursement will make up for the loss of their physical presence is almost inhumane, yet it’s something that life insurance companies do all the time. Determining how much victims of a tragedy should be awarded is a job sure to inspire anger and resentment from all parties involved, but there are those who see that, cold and robotic as it may seem, ensuring some sort of compensation is preferable to spending years on a lawsuit with the possibility of receiving nothing at its end.

After terrorist attacks shake the United States on September 11th, 2001, family members of those killed in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC reel from their losses and struggle to figure out how to make ends meet. Lawyer Ken Feinberg (Michael Keaton) is appointed as the Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, charged with creating a formula to create payout amounts for all victims to stave off expected lawsuits that could cripple the American economy. As he works with partner Camille Biros (Amy Ryan) and a dedicated team, Feinberg encounters pushback from those who believe he doesn’t care about them, including a man (Stanley Tucci) who lost his wife in the World Trade Center and highlights problems with the fund and a mother (Laura Benanti) whose firefighter husband was killed.

Feinberg was the subject of a 2017 documentary called “Playing God” that showed at DOC NYC and dealt with his work in many sorts of compensation funds for other terrorist attacks and mass shootings. This dramatized version is very affecting due to the stories of those who last heard from their loved ones on September 11th and aren’t eager for a simple payout to force them to move on. Composite characters and other cinematic devices are helpful in exploring additional layers, like corporations unhappy that bonuses and inflation aren’t factored in to their sky-high numbers and undocumented immigrants overwhelmed by the generosity of each individual settlement.

Keaton dons a thick Boston accent to play Feinberg, one that was immediately confirmed as entirely accurate when the real Feinberg spoke into a microphone on the Sundance stage following the premiere screening. It’s an energetic but appropriately understated performance, and Keaton is particularly well-matched by Tucci, who plays his character as blunt and straightforward, unwilling to mince words in his criticism of how Feinberg operates. It’s a complicated subject, one sensitively and compelling handled in this involving and poignant film.


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