Movie Review: 'The House I Live In' -- 3 stars
The House I Live In
Documentary by Eugene Jarecki
"The House I Live In" depicts the systemic failure of the American War on Drugs, but it's hardly an apologia for illicit substance abuse or a screed against governmental interference. Instead, documentarian Eugene Jarecki ("Why We Fight"), an adept chronicler of corrosive societal corruption, offers a thoughtful look at the human cost of the epic, decades-long campaign.
The film offers a multi-faceted approach to its complicated subject. It traces the history of anti-drug efforts, illuminating the often questionable and racially-tinged origins of the battles against everything from opium to crack. Jarecki incorporates talking head experts who testify to the unintended social ramifications of the war, including a U.S. District Judge and a prison head of security, two unlikely subjects. And, finally, the filmmaker smartly interweaves personal case studies that illuminate some of the millions of individual tragedies that have emerged in this era of profligate abusing and over-the-top sentences.
In the end, the well-considered movie offers an effective argument against the mandatory minimum sentences for drug convictions that mean a first-time offender could spend years locked away for a relatively minor offense. It roots out the various professional interests (on the part of police departments and private jails) that go into the wealth of drug arrests, which have collectively given the United States the world's largest incarceration rate and spurred what one interview subject deems a "war on the poor."
You don't have to agree with every point Jarecki makes to acknowledge the urgency of that notion or the skill with which he puts it out there.