The Work

I had been interested in this documentary ever since it started touring the festival circuit last year, in which filmmakers Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous were given access to an intense four-day workshop that regularly takes place in Folsom Prison, wherein convict volunteers go through a type of confrontational group therapy in order to better understand their violent natures, process the crimes they committed, and emerge on the other side as better, more whole human beings. And indeed, I bet this would've been fascinating if the filmmakers had simply shown it all in a dispassionate, slow, thorough way that respected the days-long process that's involved with slowly pulling these prisoners out of their emotional shells; but in a heartbreakingly bad decision, McLeary and Aldous chose to edit their footage into the most overly dramatic, sensationalist, emotionally manipulative way possible, leaving a really bad taste in my mouth as I watched them skip over entire days of interesting conversations to instead selectively show us all the handful of moments when a prisoner would have a complete mental breakdown, rolling around on the floor and screaming hysterically for their lost mommy. It's obvious when you watch this that those were the rare edge cases of this workshop, in that even all the fellow prisoners react to these moments like, "Wow, what the fuck flew up that guy's ass?;" yet two-thirds of the movie's entire running time is devoted to these edge-case moments, a naked attempt to turn the film into a tension-filled tearjerker when in fact it's the methodical process of the psychotherapy itself which is actually the most interesting thing about it.

I've already looked through other people's reviews of The Work here, and can plainly see that I'm going to the one and only person in the entire United States to give this movie a terrible review; so in defense of the rest of the millions of you who seemingly loved this, let me make it clear that the subject itself is gripping and fascinating, which I'm assuming is why most people felt so favorable towards it. I just really hated the way I felt so manipulated by the filmmakers as they were telling this story, and I was infuriated that they did this manipulation in such an insultingly sloppy, unhidden way, as if I wouldn't be able to tell that they were deliberately stringing together all the most melodramatic (and hence least narratively interesting) moments out of what amounted to 96 hours of raw footage. There's a great story to be told about this highly successful program that Folsom runs; but The Work is unfortunately not it.

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