I could review Precinct Seven Five, a documentary about corruption in the NYPD throughout the ’80s and early ’90s, by praising the way that director Tiller Russell has mixed together footage from Michael Dowd’s testimony before a panel set up to probe this major problem with older footage and, of course, interviews with many of the main players still around today (with Dowd being the central subject). I could note that the soundtrack wouldn’t be too out of place in some Michael Mann thriller, and that matches the tales being told perfectly, while some computer graphics are used to show the location of the 75th Precinct in comparison to the rest of New York. I could also mention how jaw-dropping it is in the first few scenes to be reminded of how New York was in the early 1980s, with many areas so run down that they looked like a war zone.
I could do all of those things. And I could drop in a couple of references, with Serpico and Cocaine Cowboys being the two main titles that sprang to mind while I was watching this.
But all you really need to know is that this is unmissable, jaw-dropping stuff. As all the best documentaries are. As the story of Michael Dowd unfolds, a police officer who also worked schemes to help make himself extra money, and eventually ended up working for a major drug dealer, it becomes incredibly intense and increasingly unbelievable. It’s one of those tales stranger than fiction, and the documentary alternately plays up the standard thriller elements and also hammers home the bigger picture, in relation to both the criminals that were either being defended or pushed out of business by the cops, and also the civilians injured or killed by drugs and weapons that the cops allowed to stay on the streets.
As well as Dowd, there’s valuable input from Ken Eurell (his partner), Dori Eurell (Ken’s wife), Walter Yurkiw (a BIG badass who often helped them out), ‘Chicky’ (a cop who retired but also continued to help his brothers in blue), and the DEA and Internal Affairs officers who ended up investigating a man who must have begun thinking of himself as invincible. There may be skewed versions of events, but Russell is savvy enough to edit certain soundbites together to show when one point is either dubious or centred in some kind of false (self-) justification.
Covering a decade or so of corruption and wild living is no easy task, and you just know that there are a hell of a lot more stories still to be told, but Russell again shows how good his instincts are in linking up main events to paint the entire picture while also creating an interesting narrative, with a twist or two thrown in to keep you on your toes during the third act.
Precinct Seven Five really will blow your mind at times and it should be a top priority if/when it becomes accessible to you.
Precinct Seven Five is screening at EIFF 2015 on 21st and 22nd June. It’s my pick of the fest so far. HIGHLY recommended.
DIRECTOR: TILLER RUSSELL
STARS: MICHAEL DOWD, KEN EURELL, WALTER YURKIW, DORI EURELL,
RUNTIME: 104 MINS APPROX