Release: 28th December 2015
Meet the dirtiest cop in New York City. Michael Dowd stole money and dealt drugs while patrolling the streets of 80s Brooklyn. This documentary looks at the story behind one of the most shocking episodes of corruption in law enforcement history.
Early in Tiller Russell’s documentary, ex-Cop Ken Eurell reflects on working in 1980’s Brooklyn and declares, “Welcome to f**k!” There simply is no other way to describe the world that officers of the seventy fifth and surrounding precincts patrolled during this time.
The documentary makes quick work of illustrating the war zone that was East New York during the Regan years; it truly looked to be a terrifying place. So it is no wonder that those who ventured into such darkness often came out stained with the sins of its hellish gut. The anecdotes and talking head interviews that follow simply map out the route of said falls from grace; namely via the story of the uber corrupt NYPD officer Michael Dowd.
Without a doubt, Dowd’s story is the sort of “so crazy, you couldn’t make it up” Hollywood friendly narrative that it might well end up as Ryan Gosling-esque Oscar bait in no time. It has drug lords, guns, double agents, near misses, violence and charisma galore; with an ending so well-defined it is as though Martin Scorsese wrote it. Dowd’s rise and fall within the confines of being both cop and crook is so effortlessly engaging that you could almost forgive Tiller Russell for his lazy Discovery Channel style creative choices. The duplication of stock footage, the half ass Dutch angles to break monotony and the sheer lack of narrative daring all speak of someone who thought the story would just be enough. But the truth is, Precinct Seven Five plays its hand far too early. Like an over eager kid at Christmas, it spoils all the surprises before you’ve even have a chance to tear the wrapping. The result is a story rife with tension and intrigue, without a single strand of tension or intrigue.
Tiller throws the main players at the screen within the first ten minutes, and then proceeds to use Dowd’s deposition as a backbone for his narrative. We watch Dowd’s story unfold with hindsight and prior knowledge and not piece by piece. The story flits between archive clippings, talking heads and title cards. It all feels very sterile and formulaic, as though Tiller intended this film to come free with the Sunday paper. For a story so full of promise and energy, Precinct Seven Five is a very lackadaisical narrative interpretation.
What you do end up with are a group of hard-boiled, insanely corrupt cops, a wonderfully arrogant gang boss…and an epic unibrow. Thankfully, these in and of themselves are more than watchable; whilst Dowd’s story is pretty much the ultimate pub yarn. The documentary may be an inferior cousin to Billy Corben’s 2006 documentary Cocaine Cowboys, but Dowd’s story is gagging for a Black Mass style retelling to actually do it justice. Bring on the Oscar bait.
Film Grade: C
Special Features Grade: F
This is a film made by its subject matter, and not much else. But it is still enthralling stuff. Shame about the absence of supplementary material.