We’ll begin with Melissa Anderson in the Voice: “The winner of the Grand Jury Prize for documentary at Sundance, Eugene Jarecki’s The House I Live In, an occasionally muddled disquisition on the colossal failure of the war on drugs, rehashes much that will be familiar to even the most casual reader of newspapers: that this ‘war’ is waged against the poor, particularly minorities. Yet what’s riveting and attention grabbing in Jarecki’s recapitulations of failed policy are some of the talking heads he has assembled, including The Wire creator David Simon and historian Richard Lawrence Miller.”
“As he showed in earlier documentaries like The Trials of Henry Kissinger and Why We Fight (about the military-industrial complex), Mr. Jarecki is fearless about taking on sprawling subjects that could eat up 10 hours on cable and squeezing them into feature-length packages,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “The war on drugs, which officially stretches back to the Nixon administration, is the kind of large-scale topic that Mr. Jarecki loves digging into, and he does so here effectively, showing and telling with a wealth of rapidly shuffled visual material, including judiciously deployed family photographs and home movies, newsreels, television news reports and the archival like…. It’s easy to take issue with a documentary like The House I Live In, which tackles too much in too brief a time and glosses over complexities, yet this is also a model of the ambitious, vitalizing activist work that exists to stir the sleeping to wake.”
David Fear in Time Out New York: “Jarecki methodically traces the ways in which the underclass has been systematically targeted and how parasitic industries—notably those involved with corrections and law-enforcement agencies—have become War on Drugs profiteers. The human toll is always front and center, with attention paid to broken families and those caught up in what Simon calls ‘a holocaust in slow motion.'” That said, “whenever the film focuses more on Jarecki’s hand-wringing than deconstructing the war itself, you wish someone would have looked the filmmaker in the eye and just said no.”
Andrew Schenker in Slant: “Whether or not you view the mass jailing of nonviolent drug offenders as specifically racially inflected (and the film cites plenty of data that suggests it certainly has been, such as the fact that while African Americans are responsible for roughly 13 percent of crack use, they constitute 90 percent of the crack-related prison population), Jarecki’s doc stands as a powerful indictment of a program that’s decimated communities, cost taxpayers roughly a trillion dollars, and hasn’t reduced the amount of drugs being consumed in this country one iota…. It’s always difficult to assess what social role activist documentaries play among the cacophony of competing media voices, but Jarecki’s movie serves not only as a valuable civics lesson that may or may not steer public debate in new directions, but as a powerful piece of anguished filmmaking in its own right.”
“Jarecki’s comprehensiveness and passion sell this story, scoop or no,” concludes Noel Murray at the AV Club.
The House I Live In is currently screening in New York and will move on to more cities in the U.S. through mid-November.