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With: David Simon, Nannie Jeter, Richard Lawrence Miller, Michelle Alexander
Written by: Eugene Jarecki, Christopher St John
Directed by: Eugene Jarecki
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 108
Date: 01/21/2012

The House I Live In (2012)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The War on the War on Drugs

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Noted documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, brother of filmmakers Andrew (Capturing the Friedmans) and Nicholas (Arbitrage), goes about his bold The House I Live In in just the right way. He begins it with a personal touch, an interview with his family's former housekeeper, Nannie Jeter (that's her real name). Her responses inspire Jarecki to look further into the "War on Drugs," its history, and its long-term damaging effects on the United States.

In interviewing Jeter, Jarecki discovers that her family was destroyed by drugs. As his investigation begins, he learns that the "War on Drugs" in the United States stretches back to Richard Nixon in the early 1970s. It has cost some $1 trillion and resulted in 45 million arrests, many of them non-violent. Interviewing experts and scholars, he learns that the "War on Drugs" has turned into a profitable industry, including the building of new prisons and the hiring of guards and police. But perhaps most shockingly, the movie draws comparisons between the racial and class marginalization of the "War on Drugs" and the Holocaust.

From there, driven by a personal impetus, the movie turns into taut journalism, building its thesis as new ideas are discovered, and escalating the scale of its storytelling by leaps and bounds. Each new idea comes with a maximum amount of shock and punch, but, happily, the movie's thoughtful approach takes it out of the realm of "outrage docs." It never seems angry; rather the tone is contemplative, regretful, and proactive. It does lazily rely on a few standard documentary style choices here and there, but these do not detract from the powerful whole.

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