Law and Disorder in Philadelphia and Johannesburg

Ratings: 8.94/10 from 18 users.


Louis Theroux: Law and Disorder in PhiladelphiaTheroux seems to relish the challenge in his documentary on BBC2, Law and Disorder in Philadelphia. The endearingly weedy Theroux is seen bounding in and out of police cars, thrust into the frontline of rapid response teams. "My first thought was, If I get killed it’s not because I’m going to get shot or mugged, it’s because I’m going to die in a car accident", he says. "The cops are unbelievable because they're breaking all the red lights, going down one-way streets the wrong way, going down the middle of the road in heavy traffic, and dodging other cars."

The new documentary is certainly his riskiest assignment yet. The BBC’s safety guidelines meant he had to wear a bulletproof vest so thick he was unable to do up his seatbelt. But you can’t blame the production team for being cautious when you consider that there are an estimated 400 homicides a year in Philadelphia, more than 10,000 aggravated assaults and almost 40,000 thefts.

On the other hand, you might say Theroux’s style is sometimes dangerous, because it could easily backfire. In an innocent-seeming, almost boyish way he asks the blunt questions that other journalists might want to ask but don’t have the nerve. Critics have accused him of faking naïvety, in order to lull his subjects into a false sense of security. But he says there’s nothing cynical in his approach.

"I just believe in taking people at their word and I’m inclined to trust people", he says. "Maybe I’m a bit naive or overly trusting because when somebody lies to me I’m shocked. But I think it’s good manners to take people at their word." Indeed, as Law and Disorder in Philadelphia shows, Theroux’s trusting interview style actually helps him elicit more information from hostile criminals than his all-action, macho peers such as Ross Kemp and Donal MacIntyre. The new film may not be as quirky as the ones that made him famous, but Theroux has again succeeded in exposing his audience to an alien world.

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35 Comments / User Reviews

  1. dbjohn

    Louis didn't bring anything new to the table in this one. This piece is just another example of the inept war on drugs. If you know your rights you can plainly see that the cops violate the rights of these people on a regular basis.
    The reason people don't "snitch" is because they will be killed if they do. Witnesses are used and then left to protect themselves. They choose to live on rather than die in the streets. This film came across as a glorified episode of COPS...the worst show on television. I usually enjoy Louis work but not this one.

  2. Dennis

    I like the way louis puts himself in the middle of things and the doc shows both sides of the story.he give equal time to the bad guys and the good guys..thrilling for the viewer to have access to the inside track.this was not a tv drama but real life..sure the locals lie to louie and the cops,hey do you tell your suburban neighbour the ..the cops know who is suspect and who is not. Tough job for them not knowing when they step out of the car if the person has a gun or a knife they dont have time in six seconds to decide if the person is NICE or a killer.Like the cop says, this neighborhood is full of crime..its all very well for us llving in safe hoods to spout liberal views..walk the mean streets and your view will change..I live in Detroit..

  3. Jane

    A lot of the drug lords have made up their minds to serve Satan in exchange for money and the "good life" even if it means the sacrifice of innocent children. The only way that people change is by accepting the fact that they are sinners and that they need a Savior, Jesus Christ, and that they change. I do believe that more should be done to protect people in Northern Philadelphia. I can't believe that people walk around with their kids on the streets knowing that they could be targets of random shootings or that they could get caught up in the cross fire. People need to go in there and help these people and get them out. To much that is given, much is expected.

  4. dbjohn

    Dennis just for the record if you were referring to me as "liberal and living in a safe hood", I am not a liberal or conservative. That type of us versus them mentality is destroying the United States and I live in Oakland, Ca.

  5. Jay Martin

    Very interesting video, that's why I only hang out downtown when I go to Philly!

    Nothing new in this doc, but some reflexion out of it

  6. Javier Torres

    I am so very grateful to Mr. Vlatko and others that have the time and patience and especially the intelligence to put up a website with substance and value. Regardless of what your interests are, this and a handful of other sites are here to rescue humanity from the inexcusable fecal matter masquerading as entertainment. If you are one of those people that just HAS to know if Madonna kissed Brittany again, or what Angelina is wearing today, you have my deepest sympathy.

  7. Vlatko

    Thanks Javier.

  8. carpenter

    Its amazing how you people around world think Americans are rich as a nation but the inside shell is what you see on this doc.

  9. Kismat

    Am so happy to have found this website,its full of information. These people dont "SNITCH" because they know how it goes down in their hood, and it's not the police will be there to protect them anyways. America is a poor mans prison....My heart goes to those people locked for nothing while serial killers are hanging loose in the streets.

  10. SMichael

    This is our home, Philadelphia. And yours, whether you choose to see it or not, is the same way. Hell, especially Oakland of all places. However, since last year when this film was made, the cost of living in the city has gone up. Taxes have been hiked in both the city and the state, to include property taxes. And most importantly, areas that were once god awful (and where I had my car broken into) are now rea estate-privatized, rebuilt, and amazing, and so they are selling like crazy to a more productive, working-class people. Not the shit losers seen. However, no, none of the neighborhoods shown fall into that area of improvement. And do I think they will? No, not likely.

  11. SMichael

    And further more, DBJohn, what's destroying and decaying the United States is pacifists like you who want to justify or look away from crimal trends instead of face them and act on them. You're weak and people like you are what make this country weak to other nations.

  12. 24th district

    I lived in the 24th district just on the other side of Aramingo ave in Port Richmond (which is actually a decent neighborhood) but a few blocks from the notorious K&A (Kensington and Allageny) intersection.

    Let me say, as screwed up as the neighborhoods are in ALL sections outside of downtown, the biggest gang in Philadelphia is the justice system. I write from experience. the grand city of brotherly love is run by money. As you can see Reds (the big time drug dealer) was able to buy himself freedom.
    My experience with the Philadelphia justice system; I am a professional young woman living on my own, when I was a victim of domestic violence. Now I know that sounds small compared to homicide, drugs and guns, but bare with me on this. when I called the police, several from the 24th district arrived. with substantial evidence they arrested the person that attacked me.

    The defendant was able to hire a lawyer and have the case pushed back for almost 2 years. then, even with all the evidence, a police statement, pictures. and me ON THE STAND TESTIFYING AND POINTING OUT THE GUY SAYING 'THAT'S HIM' and most of all..HIS LAWYER SAID, "SO HE KICKED YOU WITH STEAL TOE BOOTS? IS THAT CORRECT?' after all that, he was found NOT GUILTY! (true story)

    My advocate and the police officer said to me, "sorry, but he(the defendant) must of had a lot of money, his lawyer is known to have mob ties.The Philadelphia justice system is really corrupt, sorry." Note the quotation marks.

    Now I'm not saying all police and judges are corrupt. Even my advocate, Sweet lil vivacious thing, she really did want me to see justice, even she tried her hardest to over see the judge's ruling, my father even called in a favor from a smaller, neighboring city's District Attorney, and nothing.

    hhhmmm... shot in the dark here, but maybe that's part of the reason why people don't "snitch" Why go through all of that and not see justice? They don't really go looking for the suspect. you heard the one cop, 'nobody saw nothing' so my question, why look?

    I can really go on and on about how bad and corrupt Philadelphia is run. Just keep in mind, there are good people there, a lot are jaded and haggard from what they are FORCED to deal with, police and civilians alike, but it is a shame to blame the users and 'corner boys' for they are NOT the problem, they are the victim.


  13. Andrine

    I really appreciated this documentary. It was real and raw and human. However, for as much as our American system/war on drugs should consistently be analyzed and evaluated (with all the class and racial implications it entails), I can only feel that Louis Theroux's BBC approach is one that, for the most part, attempts to illuminate all of America's failings—in order to make the British feel better about their society, as they make their inevitable comparisons. "SEE, LOOK. CAPITALISM=BAD, SOCIALISM=GOOD." Gawd, the Beeb really thinks we don't see through that?! I don't care what system you prefer, but PLEASE just be straight with me when you're advocating for your side. A little authenticity goes a long way. I'm tired of being treated like I can't spot one-sidedness. It's insulting.

    British "expose´s of "American Culture," have, of late, been no less then propaganda.
    I would love to see an American documentarian delve into the most deeply troubled neighborhoods in Britain. I would love for an American documentarian to visit some of the most troubled council estates. I would love for an American to be given FULL access to "ride alongs" with Bobbies. I would love for an American to be given absolute access to emergency services, say on a busy weekend night, at a London ER.

    I would love to be the American, visiting African communities/Jamaican communities/Irish communities in urban areas, so I could pose leading questions. "So, how do you feel about coppers, about your government, about your freedom, being that CCTV tracks your every move?" Maybe they've no comment because they're probably ASS-FACED.
    Keep the public rat-assed, Britain. It seems to be working.

  14. heatedfrost

    i don't think his intention is to support the war on drugs. It's to present the reality of what's happening in these high-crime cities, which he does more in-depth and well than anything i've seen. But if you watch the next episode on Johannesburg, these American thugs wouldn't survive a single DAY in south africa

  15. esmuziq

    hahahahahahahaha at 45 : 39 this guy trys to be ned flanders

  16. Krä

    "I'm not cryin', I got boogies"

    hahaha, wtf

  17. Alex


    I think you might want to have a look at BBC series that have dealt extensively with social problems (violence in council estates, knife/gun crime, gangs, teenage pregnancy) in Britain (both London and the industrial north with its drug problems). They do a pretty thorough job of exposing the deep problems in their own society as well.

    Also, to equate British society with socialism in any form makes me smile.

  18. Flo

    Gotta laugh at Andrine! Calling Britain socialist is one of the funniest things I've heard. There's a Conservative majority in government as we speak, you loon. The BBC has done plenty of documentaries on the problems within British society. Panorama is a good programme for such things. Just because it's British and you seem to think that British people think of themselves as better than you, doesn't mean that America is off limits for documentaries like this. Yes, it exposes the failings of a society, failings which exist in almost every society. There is no implication at any point that this is just an American problem. If you go to any rough end in any country, you will find problems like this. People like to watch these documentaries about troubled people and communities. It's interesting and it resonates with us all because we all know it in some form. So, to be honest, I think you're just being ridiculous.

    Anyway, I thought it was a decent documentary. I feel sorry for both the cops and the ordinary guys on the corner. The only people I don't feel sorry for are the drug lords. They exploit everyone around them. It's them who have the cops and ordinary people alike living in fear. Every time the cops go out on the street, they're fearful of what kind of weapon someone might have on them. It's a dangerous job. Likewise, the guys on the street are fearful of each other and clearly don't trust the police. They'd rather be alive than rat each other out, and let's be honest, if any of us were in that situation, we'd probably do the same. They're all born into a cycle of drugs, violence and poverty by the looks of things. It's a sad situation. I felt particularly sorry for the girl who was a heroin addict, selling herself. That's tragic, really. These people are victims of their society.

  19. fd2d2

    i totally agree with 1st post by bjhon. I like your style louis but nothing new this time...

    p.s: i would add to this,, see the wire for more info :)

  20. c2believe

    The war on drugs is a failure.Any questions?

  21. LisaP

    Hooray again to Louis Theroux for a well made insight into one of many communities affected by drugs and crime.

    The cycle is maddening and heartbreaking. It does my head in trying to break it all down :(

  22. ez2b12

    You know I wrote a two page post on this doc and was going to post it but, I realized it really could be summed up in three words. THE COPS SUCK!

    So do all you bumbling blind fools that buy their crap. Wake up would you. We live in a prison nation, has it made things better? And for christ sakes stop blaming Britain or being stupid enough to compare their country to socialism.

    Who ever it was that posted that must be a Sarah Palin fan. To all of you from Europe these people are not the norm here. We are generally a good, educated, and moral people. The right wing wierdos are just stirred up because they know their time is up here, you are witnessing the death cries of the far right conservative fruit loops. Now if we don't become too liberal maybe things will go back to the center, where sanity resides.

  23. openmind

    as an observant individual raised in north phila. (i actually saw the street i live on in this doc) and resident of the city for 20 plus years i have come to the conclusion that those who refer to themselves as 'thugs' and 'cops' are many times just individuals who i define as 'lost'. a few commentators before me have pointed out the corruption in the justice system, which in part leads to officers who simply work for the next pay check and when pay is low, rather than protect and serve the community they destroy and steal from it. The thugs on the other hand are under educated or weak willed individuals that know no better than to just follow in footsteps of the individuals with $25,000 necklaces and big rims on the corner, because they believe that to be success and are manipulated through that. in closing, the corruption starts at the top and learned by the bottom, not all cops are good and not all citizens ( of phila in this case) are bad. excuse any grammar errors 8)
    p.s. if my memory serves me correctly i remember hearing 'Redz' was murdered a short time after R.I.P (comments above are not a personal insult this individual, he was just one of many that portrayed the life style)

  24. Mad Madsen

    Kids kids kids.. this is not about politics. Left or right.

    It’s really simple:

    1 – Don’t be a drugtard. Say no to drugs.

    2 – If you do drugs (of any kind) prepare to receive a chemical lobotomy. Then we harvest your organs. And use your body fat as an alternative fuel source.

    3 – Mock, ridicule and possible hit anyone who glorifies the “Thug” life-style. 2Pac was a ballet-dancer sissy actor-wannabe. Biggie was just a fat loser with no real friends. 50 Cent has the IQ of a donkey (apologies to donkeys for the comparison). Ect.

    4 – Kill any drug-dealer you see without mercy or hesitation. Especially the fat ones (we really need the fuel).

    5 – Randomly carpet-bomb drug producing countries.

    Problem solved. :-)

  25. openmind

    Correction: the individual 'Redz' ,that passed on, was not the same individual in the documentary it was another... however the 'Redz' in this doc is currently on trial for his activities.

  26. sloan

    @carpenter. I agree. Here in Norway, we have gangs who glamourize american street life and gangster life. They have no idea what the REAL is. And also a lot of people have pure hatred for the america they think is just full of rich white people. They say Americans are ignorant to the rest of the world, but I think the ignorance is on both sides.

  27. You Do Not See Me

    I know you did not say Tupac..... idiot! Tupac was not a "real thug" he did a thugs death by the hands of greedy jealous men. TAKE MEN OUT OF THE EQUATION AND REPLACE THEM WITH STRONG WOMEN... PROBLEM SOLVED!

  28. knowledgeizpower

    darn video not available.. this is like the 3rd Louis Theroux video that i have tried to view that would not play? umm why i'm just curious...

  29. Guest


    1st carry a search on Google and one of the U-tube link does work.



  30. knowledgeizpower

    Thanks for the help Pierre that is kind of you.....Peace

  31. the555hit

    This is ****** up. Top Documentary are being used to gain free advertising by the producers. TD show us the teaser then tell us the vid has been pulled. We get to see the ad that's all. This is the 5th time in 2 days and frankly TD you're starting to look like a waste of my time. When you know a doc has been pulled I think you have a basic duty not to advertise that doc regardless of what's up and down re morality v piracy issues. Just pull the ad and don't waste our time. People have been known to vote with their feet so listen up.

  32. Vlatko


    Stop whining. I'm going through the dead docs as much as I can and as much as my time allows.

  33. the555hit

    me whine? well yeah. you'd stop the only pleasure i get huh. akshully it's quite cool for a producer sharp enough to see his work going out for free to slap a ban on it and still get the free advertising. l'oef 'n peas..

  34. Devon Griffiths

    quote - "Critics have accused him of faking naïvety, in order to lull his subjects into a false sense of security."

    What's wrong with that? They might give candid answers rather than carefully worded spin?

    Heaven forbid!

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