Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. On that day, a group of terrorists hijacked four airplanes and crashed them. Three of which hit their intended targets, including the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the twin towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. Sept. 11, 2001 or 9/11, stands as the deadliest terrorist attack in world history with 2,996 killed, including the 19 hijackers. There were also more than 6,000 people who were injured as a result. In the wake of that tragedy, the U.S. Congress created the Sept. 11th Victim Compensation Fund or VCF. The VCF granted money to victims or families of victims in exchange for them not filing lawsuits against the airline industry. Attorney General John Ashcroft appointed a Special Master to determine who would be eligible for the money and how much money each person gets. This film is about that Special Master.
Michael Keaton (Spider-Man: Homecoming and Batman) stars as Kenneth Feinberg, a lawyer in the northeast and a law professor at several Ivy League schools. Because of his role in other high-profile cases, he was chosen to be the Special Master of the VCF. His goal is to be impartial and try to come up with a formula that will dole out the money in a way that’s mostly objective. However, he tries to do so without actually meeting the victims or the families of the victims. He wants to stay somewhat neutral about the process. However, there are others that don’t like his neutrality and the formula that results because they don’t think it’s fair or just.
Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games and The Devil Wears Prada) co-stars as Charles Wolf, the husband to a woman who worked in the World Trade Center. After 9/11, he’s now a widower. Once Kenneth starts making public announcements and starts inviting families of victims to apply for the fund, Charles analyzes the fund’s formula and determines that it’s problematic. Charles launches a website called “Fix the Fund” and campaigns against people applying or signing up for the fund. Despite being a man in grief, he’s not angry. He’s offended because he thinks the formula is unjust, but he’s very gentle and easygoing in his critiques of Kenneth and his formula.
Kenneth is under pressure because Charles criticizes his formula. He’s also getting push-back from Lee Quinn, played by Tate Donovan (Argo and Good Night, and Good Luck). Lee is the representative of wealthy individuals, including groups who lost people in the World Trade Center. That Manhattan building was home or headquarters to a lot of firms and businesses that employed very wealthy people. Kenneth’s formula would compensate them in ways that are equal to everyone. However, Lee wants those wealthy people to get compensated with more. Lee uses his influence to do so. Charles knows that Kenneth is prioritizing those wealthy people over the average family member who lost a loved one and Charles criticizes Kenneth for it. Tucci’s scenes opposite Keaton are superb in their characters’ tug-of-war over this.
Amy Ryan (Birdman and Gone Baby Gone) also co-stars as Camille Biros, one of the staff members working for the Special Master. She’s one of three staff members that we see having to interview family members of 9/11 victims. It’s through Camille and the other staff members that we get to hear the stories of the victims and learn more about who they are. She’s one of the few staff members who start to realize how unjust the formula can be because one of the family members, a partner to a gay man who was killed on 9/11 might be excluded from getting anything. Hearing his story affects her and motivates her to try to do more for people who are getting the short shrift.
It’s this scene and scenes like it that comprise a good chunk of the middle of this film that give this film its heart. We get numerous scenes, scene after scene, of family members sharing the stories of their lost loved ones. Director Sara Colangelo simply puts the cameras on the family members and lets them tell their stories, and it’s some of the most powerful stuff in this whole film. It’s probably the most affected I’ve been from watching a film about 9/11.
There have been several films about 9/11, particularly films that have us deal with the grief of family members, such as Reign Over Me (2007), Remember Me (2010) and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011). Those films felt overly melodramatic in their narrative constructions. It’s probably because they were fictional accounts of people who died. While there were probably some fictionalizing here, it feels more like docudramas of its kind. One of similar tone is The Report (2019), which is also about government officials, dealing with the aftermath of 9/11 and the subsequent War on Terror, being frustrated with the process of which. I would also put this up there with such Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning docudramas, such as The Insider (1999) and Spotlight (2015). The latter of which starred Keaton and featured Tucci. The ending of this is almost the same as Spotlight. It’s effective, so it still works.
PG-13 for strong language and thematic content.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 58 mins.
Available on Netflix.