Virgil Films // 2012 // 108 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jason Panella // July 21st, 2013
The war on drugs has never been about drugs.
Documentarian Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight) had a simple goal: reconnect with his nanny, an African American woman who worked for his family in the 1970s. What Jarecki got instead was a full-blown exploration of the effect the "War on Drugs" has had on the United States and its people...especially minority communities.
Jarecki talks to a variety of people throughout The House I Live In -- from correctional guards to parents of drug war casualties, from federal judges to writer David Simon (The Wire) -- and they make the film tick. The gist of the movie is pretty simple: since its inauguration in the 1970s, the War on Drugs has grown increasingly complex and costly and increasingly less about actually curbing drug usage in America. The talking heads in the film agree that while drug abuse is harmful and needs to be addressed, the gigantic industry that has sprung up around the War on Drugs has had endless negative side effects on poorer -- and especially black -- -communities. As more and more money is funneled into the machine, Jarecki asks some tough questions: Why are jails fuller than ever? Why are rehabilitation programs often the first things cut at jails each fiscal year? Why is there a huge disparity between the prison sentences for possession of crack cocaine and possession of powder cocaine? By asking these questions, Jarecki eventually brings the film full circle; while the War on Drugs may have had some noble origins, it ends up hurting people like Jarecki's nanny and her family more often than not.
The only knocks against the film are purely stylistic. Jarecki recycles some of his footage and sound-bites at several points throughout the documentary; while he does this to hammer a few points home, it ends up feeling a bit unnecessary. The other problem is the music: boy, is it bland. The score is relentlessly drowsy, and it lends an air of lethargy to so many otherwise fantastic scenes.
Virgil Films's release of The House I Live In features a crisp 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that melds some evocative camerawork with older archival footage. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track offers no reason for complaints, either. The DVD comes with a trailer for the film, plus five extended or deleted scenes that are interesting on their own but wouldn't have added much to the film.
The House I Live In will frustrate some because it doesn't offer any clear answers on any of these questions...or any answers, really. As a result, the story is bleak, devastatingly effective, and unapologetically one-sided. If you were hoping for a rousing tale of cops cleaning up the streets, you might be disappointed or even shocked. But bias is what Jarecki wants, and his bluntness is what makes it a fantastic film. Despite good intentions from those in the business, the film shows that there's no easy ending -- or winning -- the "War on Drugs."
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Virgil Films
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Extended/Deleted Scenes
* Official Site