How to make any project more appealing? Just add Michael Keaton.
How much is your life worth? How much is your wife’s life worth? Your daughter? Your father? Your mother? In the wake of the World Trade Center tragedy, DC lawyer Kenneth Feinberg was tasked with answering that question for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. He put together a formula and an eight-part plan. Under the intense gaze of public scrutiny, Feinberg put a dollar figure against every life lost on 9/11. How much money does a particular person make in a lifetime? It’s an unimaginable equation. An impossible feat given how slowly and purposefully laborious the gears of government grind.
The idea of adapting Feinberg’s memoir “What is Life Worth?: The Unprecedented Effort to Compensate the Victims of 9/11” has been floating around Hollywood ever since its publication in 2005. According to Deadline, Max Borenstein’s 2008 script has finally been lifted from the Black List, and will be directed by The Devil Wears Prada’s David Frankel. Borenstein is the writer that has since resurrected Godzilla for Gareth Edwards and brought King Kong back to Skull Island. He is currently concocting their ultimate Kaiju battle with Godzilla vs. Kong.
Neither Frankel nor Borenstein seem like the obvious handlers for such a potentially inflammatory political drama as What is Life Worth? However, they’ve got an ace up their sleeve. Michael Keaton has agreed to play Feinberg in an adaptation that’s being lauded as a fiery Oscar contender a la Erin Brockovich and Best Picture winner Spotlight. That’s a no-brainer.
We’re all currently basking in the glory of a Keatonaissance (“aissances” are not exclusive to Matthew McConaughey). Snagging a variety of awards for his superhero skewering performance in Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Birdman, Keaton was propelled into a blazing cocktail of memorable turns. Last year, he may have single handedly solved Marvel’s villain problem with his diabolical daddy in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Keaton has always been a welcome spice to any film. His appearances in Need For Speed, the Robocop remake, and American Assassin are hypnotic enough to distract you from the dreck surrounding him. His casting in Tim Burton’s upcoming Dumbo remake as a treacherous circus owner exploiting our favorite flying elephant guarantees my butt to be in attendance. Disney can live-action their cartoons well into the apocalypse as long as they keep casting endlessly watchable talent like Keaton.
No stranger to portraying real-life hotheads and fervently raw characters, Keaton was a big reason in selling that “Mad As Hell” rage of Spotlight. You spend most of his films waiting for that blow-your-top moment where life lessons are learned and remembered. Even when he takes on morally questionable titans like Ray Kroc in The Founder, you’re kinda cool with his characters’ cruel machinations. Those McDonald’s brothers never could have birthed an Empire like Keaton…I mean, Kroc.
Kenneth Feinberg suffered tremendous emotional strain putting dollars to bodies. Not only was he constantly battling political resistance, but Feinberg had to carefully navigate the unimaginable pain of the families affected by the tragedy. Not to mention public cynicism and the general bureaucratic b.s. of cutting such a significant check. It’s a role that seems like an obvious fit for Keaton.