Life of Crime 1984-2020 (Jon Alpert, 2021, USA)

Life of Crime 1984 - 2020 is a tour de force documentary, chronicling the lives of three criminals in Newark, New Jersey over almost four decades. Documentarian Jon Alpert, who has a skill for long documentary projects, has assembled effectively a version of Michael Apted's "UP" series, but this time with drug addicts and thieves. The three figures we focus on are Robert Steffey, Freddie Rodriguez, and Deliris Vasquez. Robert Steffey is the most charismatic of the bunch, and we feel there actually may be a chance for him to "turn straight". Freddie Rodriguez is a less optimistic story, as we see him continuously turn to heroin even after contracting HIV. Deliris, a mother of two, seems to have the most dramatic transformations. At times she appears different, her appearance changing dramatically throughout the film. 

Over the decades, we see the ups and downs these characters face. Alpert does a great job of humanizing people we would normally despise. And there is some despicable behavior on display in the film. Yet still, we want to remain optimistic, and we hope that these three people will be able to overcome their addictions and survive. There are many surprises along the way, and the ultimate path these characters take is unknown and creates tension along the way. At almost two hours, the film maintains very strong pacing and momentum, never lingering too long on one era of the main figures' lives. Alpert has a sense of what is interesting. He is involved in what goes on but mostly stands outside the action and lets the camera observe. Life of Crime 1984 - 2020 is not an easy watch, but it is an important film that seems to have gotten more topical in recent years than it even was when Alpert began the production.



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