Worth movie still

Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci and Amy Ryan star in "Worth," now streaming on Netflix.

Twenty years ago, the catastrophically tragic story began as planes decimated buildings in New York City and Washington, D.C. Lives were lost, creating a ripple effect that took our breath away as we shed tears of sorrow for the innocent victims and rescue workers who tried to save them.

As the rubble began to clear and the skies above went silent, funerals and memorials commenced, but the healing process was nowhere near complete. Many families no longer had sufficient income to survive.

The government, for many different reasons, stepped in to help in finding a solution to compensate the victims’ loved ones. But what is each life really worth?

The new film aptly named “Worth,” now streaming on Netflix, brings us back to 2001 and the two subsequent years during which attorney Ken Feinberg took on the pro-bono task of developing the formula to answer that question.

Michael Keaton has an Oscar-worthy performance (we’d expect nothing less) as Feinberg. Stepping back to that horrific morning, we see Feinberg as he witnesses the bombings from the safety of his commuter train window.

It’s painful to watch, even 20 years later, as we relive these events. Feinberg, a renowned lawyer and professor nearing retirement, volunteers and interviews to become the appointed Special Master of the Victim Compensation Fund.

Feinberg must sign on 80 percent of victims within a two-year time period or all might be lost regarding compensation. It’s a daunting task and comes down to a thrilling race against the clock, but Feinberg is confident he can make everyone happy amid the tragedy … until he meets Charles Wolf (Stanley Tucci), a community leader and activist who wants to “fix the fund.”

Feinberg isn’t emotionally prepared to experience the first-hand recounting of the lives lost and the effects, making his financial formula appear barbaric. How can the life of a corporate CEO be worth more than a janitor?

“Worth” brings us a complicated story filled with characters, many of whom represent an amalgam of real people, who touch our hearts and raise questions we never have considered.

Writer Max Borenstein and director Sara Colangelo never lose sight of the story as it ventures down pathways to bring us side stories of those characters. Wolf’s wife was a victim that day. Karen Donato (Laura Benanti) lost her husband, a fire fighter who had a complicated back story. Lee Quinn (Tate Donovan) represents big corporations looking out for his employers’ best interest and is Feinberg’s legal nemesis who pushes him to see the picture from a different vantage point.

While the story is about Feinberg and his team, comprised of his law firm partner Camille (Amy Ryan) and associates — led by Priya Khundi (Shunori Ramanathan) who has her own haunting story to tell — these side stories give the film its heart and soul.

Layering all of this together to give us a cohesive and interesting, as well as entertaining, story is as daunting as finding that formula, but Colangelo does so creatively. She brings us into the lives of each of the characters to experience the loss, frustration and anger.

It’s a tight script with many moving parts, increasing in speed and all in sync to give us a better understanding of this particular aftermath of 9/11. Thanks to the talented and seasoned cast, the story never feels contrived and always genuine.

Keaton, of course, embodies the real life Feinberg, a measured man with heart. His struggle between compassion and formulas is palpable in this nuanced performance.

We understand his character’s plight, yet root for him to do better. Thanks to Tucci’s Wolf, we see an unlikely camaraderie develop.

Tucci, an actor who elevates any film he is in no matter how big or small the role, gives his character the additional layers that bring him to life. We see his pain yet we feel his determination and understand his motivation completely. It’s truly a standout performance.

Ryan’s supporting role as Camile Biros is strong, giving credence to the possibility of lawyers looking out for the greater good of all.

“Worth” is an exceptional film and one to see as we remember the tragedy of 9/11 20 years ago.

Reel Talk rating: 4 stars

Pamela Powell is a film critic located in Bourbonnais and a member of the CFCA and the CCA and is a Rotten Tomatoes certified critic. Writing reviews for 10 years, Pamela also can be found on WCIA TV in Champaign. She can be emailed at pampowell5@att.net.

Film critic

New York native film critic Pamela Powell now resides in Bourbonnais where she has been reviewing big blockbuster films as well as independent gems for the last 10+ years.