Review: The Work

DVD: The Work (2017)

‘3 men spend 4 days sat in a single room chatting with a group of other men’.

On that 1 sentence synopsis, The Work doesn’t sound like the most compelling of documentaries. However, much like the human condition which is at the very core of this incredible documentary, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.

Set inside a single room in Folsom Prison (a maximum security prison in California, U.S.A.), The Work follows 3 men from outside the prison system as they participate in a 4 day group therapy retreat with a room full of level-four convicts. These are men that have been convicted of heinous crimes and one of them, by his own admission, literally tried to cut a man in half with a large machete while sitting on his chest.

All pre-conceived notions of ‘good and evil’, ‘right and wrong’, ‘us and them’ are initially hard to put to one side by the 3 men nervously entering inside the prison walls for the 1st time, and it is through the intense therapy sessions that physical and mental boundaries are broken down on both sides.

Is prison for punishment or rehabilitation? Surely the punishment is being put IN prison, then it is time to begin a rehabilitation process while the convicted are incarcerated. The Work shows that there is really not that much difference between those on one side of the prison walls and those walking free on the other. Both sides frequently wrangle with internal mental struggles, and it is the small percentage who let those struggles manifest themselves into physical action that are then removed from the so called ‘sane society’; people who STILL want to cause harm to others, but keep a hairs breadth away from doing so.

The Work is one of the most intense 90 minutes of viewing that I’ve ever sat through and I was emotionally drained as the end credits rolled. It was uncomfortable viewing at times, but it is during those moments when the core of each person was exposed and they opened themselves up in a way that most people will never allow themselves to do.

In this current egotistical society where a certain section of males seem to think that just having a beard makes them ‘a real man’, The Work strips away all the self-important bullshit and makes you look at what’s really important in life and that ‘being a man’ is far more than physical appearance.

A superb documentary that is a tough watch, but one which ultimately leaves you with a stronger feeling of ‘self’ and what it means to be alive.

  • Sheffield Doc/Fest Q&A with directors Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous
  • Theatrical trailer

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Review by Dave (host of 60 Minutes With) from a disc kindly supplied by Aim Publicity.