• 20 Jun - 26 Jun, 2020
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

As a child, when future TV host Fred Rogers would see scary images on the news, his mother would tell him, “Look for the heroes.” If Fred were a boy today, she’d add, “Look for Ken Feinberg.” Feinberg, the lawyer at the center of Sara Colangelo’s Worth, specialises in putting a price tag on human tragedy. He’s brought his calculator to the shootings in Sandy Hook, Aurora, Virginia Tech and Orlando. Feinberg even haggled the value of the Zapruder Tape.

Here, Colangelo and screenwriter Max Borenstein are only interested in Feinberg’s most famous case: the payout for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. The two-year grind involved more than 7,000 families and turned the disaster accountant, played with lean energy by Michael Keaton, into a boldface name.

Though Feinberg is a singular figure in modern American history (few else could, or would, do his job), Worth hammers his story into a standard biopic template – Grinch Finds Heart – as though one man discovering empathy is truly priceless.

Feinberg pushes Attorney General John Ashcroft (Victor Slezak) for the job, which President Bush (an uncredited voice over the phone) says he “wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.” He thinks he can do something good, but the fund itself has an innate flaw. It’s not designed for the victims; it’s designed to prevent the victims from suing the airline companies, which, if bankrupted, could destroy the entire economy and disrupt all stateside travel, at least according to the fearmongering airline lobbyists who push for the bill.

Worse, the bill specifies the families’ compensation should be tied to the deceased’s salary and lost future income, meaning that a dead dishwasher is worth $200,000, while a dead CFO is worth more than $14 million.

In Worth’s strongest moments, the grieving mothers, fathers, spouses, partners and children force Feinstein and his legal team (which also includes Shunori Ramanathan and Ato Blankson-Wood) to see them as humans, not numbers. There’s a series of painful scenes where people push their memories onto the lawyers, asking them to listen to stories, letters, even voicemails, making the lawyers recoil for their own sanity. There’s only so much misery they can hear, especially Ryan, who lets Camille wear the victims’ sadness like a heavy suit. “That’s the job,” Feinberg insists. And he keeps repeating that mantra until Worth’s fictional Feinberg – if not the real one – finds it leaves an ashy taste in his mouth.