In the past year there has been an explosion of films that dare to intelligently explore the U.S. drug war. Spurred by the rapid reform of cannabis policy, pot is increasingly becoming a centerpiece of American culture.
Out of the dozens of drug war films produced last year, these four stand above the rest, not just because of their technical excellence, but for their potential to provoke thoughtful debate on a subject of mindboggling complexity. Fortunately, each of these films is also engaging—even fun, at times—so that viewers don’t have to choose between enriching their minds and enjoying themselves. Here’s why you should set aside the bong, power up the TV and watch these four extraordinary films.
1. Code of the West: Code of the West is a cerebral but accessible meditation on the drug war’s collateral damage. It gives an eye-level view of a single group of conscientious individuals who saw an urgent need for reform and stepped in to fill it.
2. The House I Live In: What Code of the West achieves on an intimate scale, The House I Live In attains writ large. Director Eugene Jarecki—whose talent for intelligent yet sustainably outraged documentaries was proven with the anti-war screed Why We Fightin 2005—pivots his lens from the military-industrial complex to the machinations of an equally corrupt war fought at home, in neighborhoods and on street corners: the drug war.
3. How to Make Money Selling Drugs: At first, How to Make Money Selling Drugs appears patently absurd in its self-importance: with the aesthetics of a corporate training video, the film announces its intent to share with viewers the insider secrets eager entrepreneurs need in order to, well, make money selling drugs.
4. Dallas Buyers Club: Although not technically a documentary, the masterful Dallas Buyers Club nonetheless makes the list for its ability to convey the complex policy behind the true story that inspired it. It’s worth the watch merely as entertainment, but it also asks a provocative line of uncomfortable drug policy questions.