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Movie review: 'The House I Live In'

Posted 2:53pm on Thursday, Nov. 01, 2012

Unrated (drug use); 108 min.


According to director Eugene Jarecki, America's war on drugs has been an expensive, colossal failure, making the United States "the most jailingest" society on the planet -- it's 5 percent of the world's population with 25 percent of its prisoners. The result has been a revolving door of recidivism, broken homes and entire communities where much of the male population has been or is behind bars on nonviolent drug charges.

Jarecki lays this out in the bleak and unsettling The House I Live In, a gripping documentary in which Jarecki gets the foot soldiers in this ceaseless battle -- cops, prison guards, judges, addicts, dealers -- as well as their families, criminologists and The Wire creator/former journalist David Simon to be honest about why they think the current way isn't working.

He also offers a concise history of America's drug laws (at one time, almost everything was legal) and on how our shifting perceptions on drugs have been warped by race and class: Chinese immigrants and opium; African-Americans and cocaine; and, now, rural whites and crystal meth.

It's amazing how much some of the people Jarecki profiles let their guards down, conceding that the process we have now is less about rehabilitating or even punishing but about perpetuating a broken and, for some, profitable system.

Where House falls down is in offering any sort of prescription. Though Jarecki wants to end minimum sentencing -- in which judges are forced to hand down often harsh sentences to nonviolent drug offenders -- he obviously wants a deeper change. Decriminalization? Legalization? What has been the effect in countries that have toyed with these alternatives and what would be the side effects if these policies were tried here?

Perhaps that's something for his next movie.

Exclusive : Landmark Magnolia, Dallas

-- Cary Darling

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