THE HOUSE I LIVE IN
(director/writer: Eugene Jarecki; screenwriter: Christopher St John; cinematographers: Sam Cullman/Derek Hallquist; editor: Paul Frost; music: Robert Miller; Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Eugene Jarecki/Melinda Shopsin/Sam Cullman/Christopher St. John; Abramorama Entertainment; 2012)
“The ambitious look at the drug problem here offers a too simplistic view that demands a more critical and more inclusive look.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The title is derived from a song written by Lewis Allan and the blacklisted Earl Robinson (“All races and religions/That’s America to me”), that became a part of the Paul Robeson songbook.
Activist documentarian Eugene Jarecki (“The Trials of Henry Kissinger”/“Why We Fight”) takes a crack at trying to get the public to rethink their attitudes on America’s costly and failed War on Drugs, started in 1971 by the Nixon administration. The failed War on Drugs, costing so far over a trillion dollars and because of mandatory sentences for certain drug crimes, the American prison system has more inmates than any other country without even coming close to solving the drug problem. With talking heads (like ‘The Wire’ creator David Simon) putting holes in the Drugs on Wars policies, while the people in the street mimic the politicians calling drug abuse as America’s number one problem, Jarecki uses his self-acclaimed experts to confirm his own beliefs on this problem. The firebrand filmmaker is trying to sound a wake-up call to the American public that things continue getting worse with such a Draconian drug policy of mandatory sentencing and that the failure to use the government money for treatment of users instead of for prisons is foolish, especially to minorities who are arrested in a greater disparity than whites. Jarecki goes on to say the War on Drugs has paved the way for the drug crisis to be perpetuated. All such things said have been heard many times before and sound stale here.
To make his case, the filmmaker makes it personal and uses reference points as his personal experience (such as using the family history of his African-American housekeeper), commentary from mostly agreeable with him talking heads (a mix of addicts, law enforcers, politicians and journalist), and takes us on a cross-country tour of inner cities, prisons, and courts.It’s a non-nonsense styled doc, looking like something Frontline might run as a disposable magazine piece. It continually churns out facts, such as during the four decades of the War on Drugsover 45 million addicts have been arrested and some will unfairly spend a long time in jail–ripping their families and communities apart.
I think this well-intentioned look at the drug problem, besides being a bore, not adding anything vital or fresh to the debate, and overstepping its bounds when it compares the War on Drugs to the Holocaust, fails to say anything that will make people find another way on how to handle the problem. A problem that in my opinion can only be handled by education, fairer and less penal drug sentences and a more libertarian approach on how to view the presence of drugs in our society–realizing that people have a craving for drugs or else it wouldn’t be the major problem it is–therefore legalizing drugs might be the only way the problem can be solved. The drug problem is most likely bigger than merely a drug problem, but has gotten out of control because it has been mishandled by gutless, demagogic, or rigid politicians taking people down an inflexible slippery slope and not having the vision to see a way out of without making it solely a criminal problem. When Jarecki starts feeling sorry for pushers and calling for compassionate responses, his ambitious look at the drug problem offers a too simplistic view that demands a more critical and more inclusive look and a look at possibly legalizing drugs, with the findings of medical researchers as aids, even if the street drugs may be as dangerous as tobacco and alcohol.
REVIEWED ON 12/11/2012 GRADE: C+