FILM REVIEW: The Work2 min readReading Time: 2 minutes
Set inside a single room in Folsom Prison, three men from the outside participate in a four-day group therapy retreat with level-four convicts. Over the four days, each man in the room takes his turn at delving deep into his past.
Director: Jairus McLeary
Cast: Chris Renton, Charles Tate Jr., Brian Nazarof
Review by Jean Wong
Wholly immersive and emotionally challenging, The Work (2017) sheds light on the scene behind prison walls, a place that often remains a mystery for most of us. The documentary is an unexpectedly vulnerable trip into one of the fiercest places on earth.
Rather than making interviews the bulk of the documentary, director McLeary keeps those brief and focuses a lot on raw film footage instead. This makes for an immersive filming style that drops us right in the middle of all the action. It is almost as though we’re there alongside the inmates in Folsom Prison, equally as involved in the action as the rest of the participants.
More than just making the experience feel real, this filming style also allows the viewer to develop their own thoughts on the experience rather than having the director’s opinions imposed on them.
The lack of music used — apart from the introduction — adds to the realness of the situation. Every single conversation, soft or loud, is presented to us with no fancy embellishments. Even the conscious choice of using monotonous music in the beginning sets the film in a sense of solemnity and prepares the viewer for an intensive affair.
Level-four convicts means that the inmates were involved in violence or gang-related crimes. However, the only brutality depicted in the film is that of brutal honesty — the fearless way in which each of the men open up is a breath of fresh air that may perhaps have been unexpected, but not unwelcome.
Such fierce honesty seems to be very much needed by the men in the group therapy, and it is this honesty that changed the way I view convicts. While most may think that convicts are generally ruthless and in this case violent, The Work subverts this misconception to show that there is a softer and humane side to them.
Overall an overwhelming journey into the human psyche, The Work delves into the lives of inmates and seeks to undo stereotypes, suggesting that underneath our exteriors, we are all the same.
Catch the screening of The Work (2017) on 23 March 2019 here.
The Happiness Film Festival
Held in Singapore, The Happiness Film Festival is the world’s first film festival that promotes happiness. They hope to raise greater awareness on happiness and well-being through films and post-film dialogue sessions. Film is a powerful medium that can engage audiences and start meaningful conversations. The post-screening dialogues will bring together speakers to talk about issues or ideas explored in the film.