Sara Colangelo’s Worth tells the true story of a man tasked with the impossible – assigning a price tag to the thousands of individuals who perished on 09/11. That’s Ken Feinberg (Michael Keaton), an expert numbers cruncher. He’s a former Chief of Staff to Senator Ted Kennedy, but his own political skills are lacking. Feinberg approaches the assignment of creating the Victims Compensation Fund with a lawyerly precision that doesn’t match the emotional toll and anger of its survivors. That’s until he begins to listen.
In the wake of that horrific Tuesday, the Congress passed the measure which allows Feinberg to get to work. The kicker is that 80% of respondents must agree to sign up and therefore waive the ability to sue the airlines and they must do so within two years. That’s a tall order as Feinberg and his team, including Amy Ryan’s second in command, pore through each case. How much should the family of the cleaning crew at the World Trade Center be paid as compared to the CEO’s widow in the corner office? Can there ever be a satisfactory formula for an unprecedented situation?
The screenplay from Max Borenstein gives us specific case files to ponder. There’s the wife (Laura Benanti) of a firefighter who had a secret family. The long-time partner of a man whose parents won’t acknowledge their relationship (therefore cutting him out as a beneficiary). And there’s the widowed Charles Wolf (Stanley Tucci) and the blog he starts that points out the unfairness and inequities of the Fund. Wolf’s civil interactions with Feinberg (and the fine performances of Keaton and Tucci) provide the film’s most involving dramatic moments. They occasionally punctuate a somewhat repetitive watch.
I got the feeling that a documentary where the actual survivors talked about their own decision making process with the Fund would have been far more worthy of attention. This dramatized version does a commendable job setting up the premise and is so-so at the execution. President Bush phones Feinberg to josh him that no one would want this job. The lawyer must navigate opaque meetings with Attorney General John Ashcroft (Victor Slezak) and airline lobbyists whose bottom line is not to go bankrupt. Yet most of the running time centers on Feinberg’s growing sympathy for those left behind. Each case is important, but the script does little to elevate any of them beyond a different kind of formulaic treatment.
**1/2 (out of four)