AJFF Review: ‘Playing God’ Examines Unenviable Job
ArtsAtlanta Jewish Film Festival

AJFF Review: ‘Playing God’ Examines Unenviable Job

Victim compensation attorney Kenneth R. Feinberg evaluates people's worth after tragedy hits.

Dave Schechter

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

How do you determine the dollar value of a human life?

Who should have the power to make such decisions?

In the aftermath of high-profile disasters, including the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the answer often is Kenneth R. Feinberg, attorney at law, a special master in the field of victim compensation.

Feinberg is the subject and, indeed, the narrator of “Playing G-d,” a well-produced (the camera work is excellent) documentary screening twice at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.

Throughout the 96-minute film, Feinberg explains — in an assertive tone, with the accent of his native Brockton, Mass. — how he balances the law with the emotions of people whose loved ones have been killed, whose livelihoods have been damaged or whose financial security is threatened.

Feinberg sits in his darkened den at home, watching television with the sound off while listening to classical music (he appears partial to Wagner and Mahler).

“During the day I see the worst of civilization. Death. Anger. Frustration. Tragedy.” The music is “the height of civilization,” he says. “The contrast is remarkable.”

In America, one response to large-scale pain and suffering is cold, hard cash (“bloody money,” a 9/11 family member calls it) that comes with a string attached: Once the money is accepted, the right to sue for damages is waived.

The government, the courts and corporations retain Feinberg to keep the messiest piece of the process at arm’s length.

Feinberg evinces empathy for the men and women who beseech him, but he remains duty-bound to the law.

To those on the receiving end of his judgments, Feinberg is either an honorable man with an impossible task or a heartless villain protecting the interests of the powerful.

Either way, you will not envy Feinberg.

Atlanta Jewish Film Festival screenings: Jan. 31, 7 p.m., Perimeter Pointe; Feb. 15, 12:40 p.m., Springs

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