Documentaries: The House I Live In & West of Memphis

The House I Live In (R) - Runtime:  108 minutes
Director: Eugene Jarecki

The House I Live In is a hard-hitting look into the criminal justice system and what the real war on drugs is about. You'll be completely depressed the whole time you watch this movie, but I swear, it's a must-see because it asks hard questions that no one wants to ask or answer. And with Jarecki's direction and narration, the movie is nearly flawless in execution.

The movie covers all aspects of the war on drugs - from the actual criminals to the arresting officers and the judges, lawyers and prison guards involved in these cases. And it's astonishing because everyone is in agreement - the system is broken. Jarecki makes an informative case that the so-called war on drugs that got beefed up during the Reagan years has only made things worse for minorities.

There's a lot of characters and interviews but Jarecki's narration keeps it all in perspective and the inter-stitching monologues with The Wire creator David Simon help to keep the film in focus on the varying perspectives without wandering off topic. The documentary doesn't offer any answers to the questions and issues it proposes, but does an effective job at creating a sense of urgency with these issues

I highly recommend this one simply for the amount of information and though-provoking questions it asks. Some of the interviews will shock you simply because you have a per-conceived notion of who these people are. The prison guard being interviewed surprised me at his honesty about the justice system of which he's a part of. It will make you think twice about the drug culture and the criminals we lock away.

Rating: Rent It!

West of Memphis (R) - Runtime: 147 minutes
Director: Amy Berg

I was too young to remember any of the West Memphis killings. But they've always been in the headlines every now and then the past decade because of how notoriously these three poor kids got the shaft while the real killer was still walking around. I think even if you know the story fairly well, West of Memphis takes a very in-depth look at the whole case and the subsequent 18 years afterwards that will leave you stunned and shocked at times. This was a deeply moving and completely thorough documentary that everyone should see.

The movie starts right from the beginning and is pretty much told through interviews of the families involved, the cops and investigators and eventually the grassroots campaign to end the life sentences of the three convicted kids. When I say thorough, I'm not joking - the movie chronologically follows the case and soon becomes deeply invested into not only showing the movement to free the three kids (who are no longer kids at this point!), but also to launch a real investigation into what really happened that day and who is the most likely to have killed these three little boys.

It's pretty amazing how, with just a little bit of work and investigating done by outside investigators, you can see how that the three boys who were convicted - Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. -  were clearly not the ones involved. It was literally a witch hunt - Echols was involved with witchcraft at the time and that became the lynchpin to put all three in jail. It's completely awful and you'll feel a sense of sickness as you see how easily our justice system can be corrupted.

At times the movie will test your patience - it's just really long and you want to get to the end to see the happy ending. And if that's a spoiler, then you probably need to start paying attention to news headlines. It's really a must see movie for anyone interested in the case and it's really well done. From the editing to the piecing together of details and interviews - I can only imagine how much work was put into this film.

Rating: Rent It!

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