"Crack USA: County Under Siege" is a contemporary suburban horror film, a documentary that takes us into the side-street drug world of Palm Beach County, Fla., where undercover cops, crack houses and coked-out buyers and sellers form an American scene that Norman Rockwell would have never painted.
An HBO special that aired in November, and now one of the five Oscar nominees for best feature documentary, "Crack USA" is a straight-on piece of live TV journalism, at its most dramatic when its athletic camera is sweeping us along on drug busts, car chases and muggings.
It's not a pretty sight. Entire neighborhoods, where lemonade stands once introduced youngsters to the world of free enterprise, are now seedy drug enclaves. Cluttered crack houses populated by hollow-eyed losers seem to sit there inviting the next raid.
Jean de Segonzac's intrusive camera is in on everything. With nighttime filters, it shows us coke sellers scampering in the dark like cockroaches. It takes us along with a panicked couple as they chase a pick-up truck and try to reclaim their 16-year-old son from his crack-head buddies. At one point, it puts us in the passenger seat with an undercover cop who is robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight.
The 41-minute film, which was written, directed and produced by Vince DiPersio and William Guttenberg, is a blunt indictment of a legal system that seems to view the imprisonment of drug dealers as restraint of trade. Its propagandistic tone (it is narrated by actor Joe Mantegna) makes it seem more a police community service film than the work of a serious documentarian, and the compression of events undoubtedly distorts reality.
But the subject is serious business and its point is well taken: crack cocaine is as insidious as a new virus and if sellers aren't punished as serious felons, the epidemic will go unchecked.