Sundance 2020 Review: Worth – Human Calculus

You’ve heard the stories of auto manufacturers who learn there is a defect in their vehicle and calculate the cost of potential lawsuits and the cost of the recall. If the recall costs more, they decide it’s worth it to them to shell out wrongful death settlements rather than save every potential driver. That’s unconscionable. Now, how does one decide how much the victims of 9/11 should get?

That was Ken Feinberg (Michael Keaton)’s job. The airlines of the flights hijacked on 9/11 realized that victim lawsuits could bankrupt the airlines. That would impact the entire country, because they couldn’t fly supply planes either. So the government came up with the 9/11 Victims Fund. They need at least 80% of 9/11 victims to sign up, and Feinberg has to convince them his calculations are really what their loved ones’ lives were worth.

The inherent drama of this unfathomable task is compelling. Feinberg isn’t an asshole. He knows you can’t put a price on human life, but he’s more worried that the victims will get nothing otherwise. Try selling that to people going through grief.

The 9/11 fund brings up other related issues. Frank Donato (Chris Tardio), who lost his brother Nick in the rescue efforts, brings up that the fire department had shoddy radios. They didn’t even hear the call to evacuate the buildings. If first responders could get better resources to mitigate future tragedies, that would be worthwhile.

Charles Wolfe (Stanley Tucci) was a man after my own heart. He was against the fund in execution but not in concept. He wanted Feinberg to fix the fund and gained a following large enough to make an impact. The government can have good intentions but make things worse by not listening to the real people they’re trying to help. Wolfe’s efforts show that citizens can force them to listen.

Further complications ensue with benefits. This was before the legalization of gay marriage, so a lot of partners were shut out. Ultimately the state determined who the beneficiaries were. One gay widow illuminated the way unsupportive biological families could manipulate the fund. His case gave Camille Biros (Amy Ryan) enough to make sure other states awarded the right person the benefits, but she still couldn’t fix Virginia.

The Donatos’ story deepens too. Nick’s wife Karen (Laura Benanti) doesn’t want any money, but other people in Nick’s life crop up who may deserve to be taken care of. The individual stories put faces on 9/11. Some put endings on victims’ stories, but what’s to say they didn’t end that way. Worth shows the diversity of cases affected.

Worth really makes the case that every citizen is unique. Blanket regulations are unacceptable. We deserver nuance. The 9/11 Fund ultimately did right, thanks to people like Feinberg, Wolfe and Biros’ tireless efforts. Not every politician or activist is as noble as they were, and the bad ones don’t get movies made about them.

Written by
Fred Topel also known as Franchise Fred has been an entertainment journalist since 1999 and specializes in writing about film, television and video games. Fred has written for several outlets including About.com, CraveOnline, and Rotten Tomatoes among others. His favorite films include Toy Story 2, The Rock, Face/Off, True Lies, Labyrinth, The Big Hit, Michael Moore's The Big One, and Casablanca. We are very lucky and excited to have Fred as part of the We Live Entertainment team. Follow him on Twitter @FranchiseFred and @FredTopel

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