The Work

Directed by Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous

Set entirely inside Folsom Prison, The Work follows three men during four days of intensive group therapy with convicts, revealing an intimate and powerful portrait of authentic human transformation that transcends what we think of as rehabilitation.


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  • ★★★★★ review by Simon Di Berardino on Letterboxd

    After it ended I called my Dad and told him I loved him.

  • ★★★★ review by Brian Tallerico on Letterboxd

    A man makes a sound in this film I've never heard before. It's something else. The most fascinating thing is how many of the men seem to express some sort of doubt or unwillingness just before they break, as if that vocalized denial is actually a part of the process of healing. You have to lie to yourself before you can get to the truth.

  • ★★★★ review by Peter Labuza on Letterboxd

    Exorcistic by nature, as I discuss on my Top 5 of 2017 podcast here. To fight back against one criticism I saw elsewhere, this is of course not a film filled with neatly framed images, but it does what cinema is supposed to do: capture bodies in all their emotions. We don't live in a world of #OnePerfectShots; we should not ask our documentaries to do so. We do live in one in which bodies are continually moving, breathing, expanding, closing, touching, releasing—and the cameras capture that to their full extent here.

  • ★★★★★ review by Griffin Newman on Letterboxd

    The father of all daddy issue movies.

  • ★★★★½ review by Alex Engquist on Letterboxd

    "like looking in a mirror."

    This completely flattened me on an emotional level, yet I found myself wondering about three-quarters of the way through if it wasn't somehow betraying the egalitarian, participatory nature of the therapy by putting it on display for outside voyeurs to watch from a safe distance. I started to ask myself if I was being moved by the work itself or by the film. As with Starless Dreams, though, I think what keeps this from feeling self-congratulatory is the filmmaking: McLeary and Aldous's cameras (and mics) are as attuned to the physiological aspect of the work as the emotional, holding on the men as their jaws clench and fists ball up, straining to hold back the feeling or memory that is threatening to tear itself out from the deepest part of themselves. The sound recording in particular is crucial - each of the men is outfitted with a body mic that picks up everything from primal howls of pain to uneasy rustling of clothes to (in one breathtaking moment) a pounding heartbeat. But the mics also pick up ambient sounds of the room, as we hear the work going on all over, in every group, from every kind of man. (If you watch it on a laptop, as I did, I recommend headphones.) The editing is also remarkable, letting a shot of one man spilling his guts play out for over a minute before cutting to another listening, then cutting to another feeling something they did not expect to feel beginning to rise in him. What McLeary and Aldous evoke with their precise craft here is the way that this kind of therapy dissolves the boundaries between physical and emotional, convict and outsider, facilitator and participant, and speaker and listener, and I think it's a testament to how well they do it that the film works on such a visceral level, even for a viewer watching from a distance.

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