‘The House I Live In’ Arrives on DVD, Blu-ray

Forrest Hartman

Because of the Independence Day holiday, no major theatrical releases are migrating to video this week. However, an exemplary documentary about the U.S. War on Drugs is there to fill the void. 



The House I Live In

3½ stars (out of four)
Not rated
Virgil Films
Available on: DVD


Americans have long celebrated justice and freedom, but director Eugene Jarecki’s “The House I Live In” forces viewers to look closely at political policies that have turned the nation into the No. 1 jailer in the world. As Jarecki (“Why We Fight,” “Freakonomics”) points out in the documentary, the U.S. contains 25 percent of the world’s prisoners despite possessing only 5 percent of its population.


These are sobering statistics, and Jarecki makes a compelling argument that policies supposedly put in place to protect us have resulted in a massive incarceration machine that is neither just nor morally defensible. In particular, the filmmaker focuses on the War on Drugs, an ongoing effort that results in more than one million arrests every year.


Do these numbers mean America is a land of criminal degenerates? Not according to Jarecki. In “The House I Live In,” he makes a well-reasoned case that society would be better served if most drug offenders were rehabilitated instead of imprisoned.  


To be sure, there are arguments for drug laws, and Jarecki doesn’t lobby for their abolition. Rather, he focuses on statistics that call the nation’s current approach into question. For instance, he notes that the majority of people doing time for drug offenses are nonviolent. Still, many of these people spend considerable time behind bars because of mandatory-minimum sentencing laws.


Jarecki also argues that our laws are skewed to target certain populations, including blacks and the extremely poor. In arguing this point, he compares the penalties for crack cocaine possession to those for the possession of cocaine in pure powder form. Although the two drugs are virtually identical, the penalties for crack possession are far steeper, and crack tends to be a poor-man’s drug. 


Perhaps the most satisfying thing about “The House I Live In” is how thoroughly Jarecki makes his case. He starts by explaining that a black nanny raised him, and that her children’s lives suffered due to drug use and abuse. “The House I Live In” is not, however, a simple, first-person sob story. Jarecki interviews people ranging from law enforcement officials to journalists, and all agree that the current system has flaws.  


As with many documentaries, “The House I Live In” makes no attempt at objectivity. Rather, Jarecki focuses on his assessment of the situation, making a case for change. He also argues that the War on Drugs has been a distinct and utter failure, making life in America worse. The subjectivity may irritate admirers of current laws, but even those who disagree with Jarecki’s conclusions will be hard pressed to ignore his arguments.


DVD extras are limited to six shorts focused on issues presented in the film. 





“The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” – The Complete Series: All 147 episodes of the 1950s and ’60s teen sitcom about a young man (Dwayne Hickman) on a quest for money, popularity and beautiful women. The show, which was based on the short stories of Max Shulman, also stars Bob Denver as the title character’s beatnik friend.


“An American Girl – Saige Paints the Sky”: New, direct-to-video entry in the American Girl franchise. The plot focuses on Saige (Sidney Fullmer), a 9-year-old artist who fights to restore the art program that was cut from her school.   


“6 Souls”: Horror film starring Julianne Moore as a psychiatrist who discovers that all the multiple personalities of a patient are murder victims. Jonathan Rhys Meyers also stars.


“Last Resort” – The Complete Series: Three-DVD set containing every episode of the ABC drama about the crew of a US nuclear submarine that goes rogue after refusing to honor questionable orders. Andre Braugher, Scott Speedman and Daisy Betts star.    



“The Girl”: Independent movie about a mother (Abbie Cornish) who – after losing her son in a custody battle – attempts to make money by smuggling a Mexican family into the U.S. Written and directed by David Riker.


“Wolverine – Origin”: Motion comic centered on the beginning of one of Marvel Comics’ best-loved heroes. This title is hitting video just a few weeks before Marvel’s live-action Wolverine movie reaches theaters.


“Death By China”: Documentary film in which writer-director Peter Navarro argues that America’s economic relationship with China is our nation’s most desperate problem. 


“Tower Block”: Thriller about a sniper who targets the residents of a rundown building several months after they stand by and watch as a young man is murdered. Directed by James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson.   


“Stevie Nicks – In Your Dreams”: Documentary film following rock musician Stevie Nicks through the recording of her 2011 album, “In Your Dreams.” The movie is available exclusively through digital download and on demand.  


“Blood Runs Cold”: Slasher film about a group of friends who face off with a killer in a remote cabin. Hanna Oldenburg, Patrick Saxe, Andreas Rylander and Elin Hugoson star. Directed and co-written by Sonny Laguna.


Author Bio:

Forrest Hartman, a Highbrow Magazine contributor, is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation's largest publications. For more of his work visit www.ForrestHartman.com.

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Virgil Films
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