How much is a human life worth?
As a philosophical question, it’s emotionally fraught and almost unbearable to contemplate. Can you put a dollar amount on a life? You can, actually. Uncomfortably. And people have. They do it all the time. You may even know how much yours is worth in the event of your death. Will you have an insurance payout? How do insurers decide how much you’re worth? What if you have an accident? What would a court of law determine to be your worth? Lawyers wrangle over this number all the time, but I doubt anyone’s every been satisfied with their answers.
When al-Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and carried out deadly suicide attacks 9/11, the loss was astronomical and the country mourned. But as weeks and months passed, that loss began to be quantified, and it fell to someone to develop a formula that would establish a financial settlement for each of the victims. Under the formula, the families of deceased CEOs would receive more than the families of deceased janitors. It wasn’t fair, but maybe fair wasn’t the point. Maybe it wasn’t possible.
Congress hand-picked Kenneth Feinberg (Michael Keaton) to lead the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Armed with a calculator, he and partner Camille Biros (Amy Ryan) had the unenviable task of calculating something incalculable while looking the victims’ families in the eye and hearing their devastating stories of heartbreak and loss.
One claimant in particular (Stanley Tucci) challenges Feinberg to confront the humanity of his job, maybe for the first time in his impressive career. Worth is a story about compassion. Given its content and context, it would be easy to turn maudlin and dramatic, but Keaton keeps the whole thing in check with a restrained, stoic performance – not unemotional, but an excellent counterpoint to Tucci, who eschews melodrama in favour of simple human connection. It’s a nice movie about a tragic event. Check it out on Netflix.