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Cinema

CINEMA

The Work (2017) directed by Gethin Aldous and Jairus McLeary

The Work is being released in UK cinemas on the 8th of September 2017. However, previews are running from the 4th to the 7th in London, Brighton and Dublin. A timetable is available via this link: https://theworkmovie.com/tickets

Group therapy behind bars

This documentary takes a look at a group therapy session run by The Inside Circle Foundation for inmates of the maximum-security Folsom Prison in Sacramento County, California. We meet three people from outside who decide to join these dangerous criminals for the four-day retreat to find out if its gruelling approach can successfully exorcise their own inner turmoils.

Watch a trailer:

Sympathy for the devil?

It’s quite normal - even understandable - to view hardened criminals as incarnations of pure evil rather than human beings. After all, these people have caused intense and (largely unjustifiable) damage and destruction to others. To many, it’s an elephant in the room to suggest that they are human beings with their own pains to work through; pains which frequently drive their heinous actions. However, The Work takes a frank and eye-opening look at what many would rather live in denial of. In the end, this denial leaves us all the poorer, as the bruised form of humanity in society’s most reprehensible members can help us to see how the same guides (or misguides) our own actions.

Uncluttered and harrowing

Directors Gethin Aldous and Jairus McLeary adopt an uncluttered, fly-on-the-wall approach, focussing mostly on the session itself and, briefly, the daily van trip that takes the three non-inmates to and from the facility. There’s no extraneous narration, interviews with third parties or anything of that ilk - just as square focus on these men. Anything else would have been surplus to the film’s requirements.

It’s truly harrowing and tear-jerking seeing the hardened gang members and career criminals being pressed into opening up and exorcising their own demons, thereby rendering them into such a bawling, uncontrollable state that they need to be restrained on the floor. They include a wizened former Aryan Brotherhood member, a Native American who paralysed a man by cutting him repeatedly across the stomach with a knife, and a member of the infamous LA-founded Blood gang who hasn’t had the chance to see his own son.

The Work 2017 documentary

However, it’s the non-inmates brought into this emotionally intense environment whose reactions are the most revelatory. One is rather arrogantly judgemental during the early stages until, after a verbal spat resulting from an off-the-cuff remark towards a former junkie who spills his guts about the betrayals that drove him to his habit, he suddenly breaks down in a startling fashion. Another younger man initially feels that he is incapable of the kind of emotional displays he has witnessed, but he too eventually comes to an epiphany. The third has come into the setting with a mindset rather more apposite to that of the criminals right from the start as his own father was in prison throughout his childhood; he finds emotional closure as he comes into contact with people on the other side of the fence.

The Work is an intensely difficult film not to feel moved by. The emotions captured here are almost unbearably raw and real, and while the actions that landed these criminals in Folsom are in no way acceptable, the shared sense of regret they feel about the paths their lives have taken utterly turns the stereotypical Death Wish-style mentality that they are unfeeling sadists right on its head.

Runtime: 89 mins

Dir: Gethin Aldous, Jairus McLeary

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

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