Review: 'The House I Live In'

The House I Live In
Eugene Jarecki directed ’The House I Live In.’

What’s the purpose of a documentary film these days and how do you get people to watch one after it’s made? While smart directors like Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock have found their audiences by inserting themselves into thoughtful investigations - providing comic relief as well as concerned involvement - documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki has taken a more straightforward informational approach...until now.

Certainly, Jarecki’s previous efforts are important left-wing considerations, particularly The Crimes of Henry Kissinger,Why We Fight (a scathing treatise on the military-industrial war business) and Reagan, but his latest film, The House I Live In, includes a personal narrative that threads through an unsettling examination of how over the last four decades the War on Drugs has served as a nonstop treadmill of addicts and other drug casualties consumed within the prison system. We’re talking more than 45 million arrests at a cost of $1 trillion. Jarecki also explains how this misguided method of legal intervention devours so many lives of the underclass that it’s practically a crime to be poor in America.

The New York-based director artfully weaves together the stories of a few to help articulate the plight of many. From the vantage of his own privileged background and with great humility, he traces the tale of his childhood caretaker - a black woman from the South - and the far-reaching impact of her own family’s struggle with drugs.

The film introduces a patriotic-yet-circumspect prison guard who measures the negative impacts of the overall system on a daily basis. There are also two world-weary policemen who made their bones appearing on Cops years earlier, but are now far more realistic about the toxic effects they might be having on the community that they “serve.” Other subjects include addicts, former addicts and educators, an “activist” judge, and the calm, articulate presence of the creator of The Wire, David Simon, who helps explain the fiscal and political incentives of the supposed War on Drugs and the real underlying assault on minorities and the poor (i.e. anyone lacking the fiscal resources to protect themselves).

The sad facts and troubling numbers Jarecki and his subjects provide are not always revelations (like the divergent penalties for crack cocaine verses powder or the impact of mandatory prison sentencing). It’s more surprising how oblivious the public remains today when it comes to these concerns, unless they themselves are victims of a system that has made America the biggest jailer in the world.

Jarecki’s thoughtful approach has attracted the attention of many concerned celebrities, several who’ve come forward and associated themselves as executive producers, including Brad Pitt, John Legend, Danny Glover and Russell Simmons. Get informed about this important film and help with the fight to end the War on Drugs.

Mitch Myers

Mitch Myers

Author of "The Boy Who Cried Freebird." Also writes for Magnet, down beat, The Hollywood Reporter and High Times.