“Life of Crime: 1984-2020” begins with an almost unsettling casual approach to the petty crime underworld. Alpert follows three people around Newark: Freddie Rodriguez, Robert Steffey and Deliris Vasquez. These three have the perceived invulnerability of young people as they dig deeper into their own bad habits like theft, drug use and prostitution. The early years of the film border on what might be considered exploitation more than the following years, such as when Alpert catches domestic violence or seems to linger on a needle that penetrates a vein. This is an interesting study on the development of a filmmaker and a human being as the project gains noticeable degrees of empathy over time, probably showing how much Alpert has gone from being someone “exposing a life of crime for HBO “to someone who clearly cared about their subjects. You can see this growth in the final product as he became attached to his subjects and their suffering.
Rob is the cutest of the three, a guy who starts out with shoplifting and theft but develops a fairly severe drug addiction that begins to impact the severity of his crimes and his ability to stay sober after stints behind. bars. Freddie is the heartbreaking story of a guy who lands behind bars and watches his addiction take over his life, even after contracting HIV. Upon his release, he struggles to stay clean and take care of his children, but life doesn’t seem to be made to help guys like Freddie. Finally, there is the roller coaster that tells the story of Deliris, once Rob’s girlfriend and severely heroin addict. Even her children know how to look for tracks to make sure she didn’t fall off the wagon. She becomes a study in recovery until Covid-19 derails her life. How her life was affected by Covid feels like she could have supported her own documentary – and is rushed here in the last few minutes – in that the story of how the pandemic impacted this country in a way other than just catching the virus is only being told now.
What first looks like a criminal underworld study gradually becomes about the extent to which addiction controls the narrative in parts of this country. These three will often be on the right track in a segment, and then Alpert moves forward a few years and they’re hooked again, sometimes almost unrecognizable. Demons always seem to come back, and it doesn’t help that the safety nets that should be put in place by this country keep breaking down. Rob has a good job and gets fired for finding out he was a convict. Freddie wants to pull himself together but can’t find a place to live – he even has a parole officer who tells him he has to live in a hotel he can’t afford instead of staying with the drug addicts in his. post-prison home. The place where Deliris lives has a dozen dealers in the backyard, almost calling her by name knowing that she is trying to clean herself up. Even the people who seem most together fall apart and those who seem likely to break up find a way to stay whole. And Alpert shows it all, capturing the near-mundaneity of addiction, how it can dictate existence when it has a hold over someone. It really is a documentary about the drug control rather than traditional crime.