The Work Screen 92 of 6 reviews

The Work

2017

The Work Poster
  • Astoundingly intimate and empathetic look at the catharsis of being hurt; masculinity gives way to fragility; tears mottle the faces of tattoo-adorned killers and gang members; a heartbeat shared. As an overly-emotional guy, this made me feel things. (I cried and my date didn’t.)

  • Some might invoke voyeurism to describe the above, but doing so can say more about the viewer than it does of what and who is being viewed. For when we are privileged to watch, others have afforded us that privilege. . . . In fact, in a film like The Work, with its multiple layers of privileged access and precariously obtained permissions from an array of potentially volatile participants, you’re not just being allowed to see. Your sight is essential. Seeing and being seen is the point.

  • The film dramatizes the violence of the American male psyche with a sense of physicality and passion that’s rare in cinema, recalling the confessional intensity of Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason. . . . It’s freeing and intoxicating to watch these tough guys cry, as they’re validating the fragility of men who feel they’re not living up to the American male ideal.

  • For the first 15 minutes there’s an unease borne of earnestness that puts you on edge, partially with residual embarrassment at the tender confessions of the tattooed, beefed-up convicts . . . and partially with a sense that the whole enterprise could derail in a flash. By its end, you can hear a pin drop — it accelerates so rapidly in energy and severity and maintains its thudding heart rate with such relentlessness . . . that the film itself starts to feel cathartic.

  • Opening an aperture into a process so ego-stripping that it feels unseemly to witness, “The Work” is enlightening yet also punishing. Even more disturbing than one of the crimes described — and the near-constant background howls — is the convicts’ willingness to bare their souls for the nosing-around camera.

  • The constant therapy-speak may be squirm-inducing for more uptight British viewers, and risks confirming suspicions about the huggy-feely nature of Californians of all classes, but for the open-minded this is moving, even wrenching viewing that might inspire similar approaches in British institutions. The dry, strictly observational shooting style means the doc stays in the moment and rarely ventures out of the room where the programme unfolds, adding immediacy.