In 1982, the 75th precinct of the New York Police Department was one of the most corrupt in the city’s history. Into this world strolled young cop Michael Dowd, who soon realised he could make a fortune by playing both sides of the police/criminal divide. Dowd drew his partner Kenny Eurell into his underworld dealings, and they lived like kings for several years. Now director Tiller Russell’s documentary allows Dowd, Eurell and the criminals they worked for, to tell the story of corruption in precinct seven five in their own words.
The story at the heart of Precinct Seven Five sounds as though it could have been made into a narrative film by Martin Scorsese – and it still might – and it is one of those incredible true stories that is almost too far fetched to believe. The man at the centre of the tale, Michael Dowd, appears on screen throughout the documentary, both in archive footage and new interviews. The archive footage displays a man who seems ashamed of the crimes he committed over several years; this is a stark contrast with the Michael Dowd of the present day, who is, above all else, a wonderful storyteller, who seems to delight in telling this over the top and outlandish tale.
Kenny Eurell tells his version of the story but, for all that he was with Michael Dowd throughout this period in their lives, and benefitted as much as Dowd did, he seems tormented by the past that Dowd tells with such engaging glee, and tells the story much more factually and ultimately less engagingly. Other figures from the New York law enforcement and crime families chime in with angles of the story, including cocaine dealer Adam Diaz, Kenny Eurell’s wife Dori and DEA Mike Troster. The story that emerges feels rounded and told from all sides, with the supporting stories being brought into support Dowd’s tale and the footage of his deposition.
Director Tiller Russell weaves together a tale of corruption and crime in a simple but engaging way. For the most part, he allows Dowd to speak for himself and, every time the audience begins to believe the myth that Dowd spins about himself, we are quickly reminded that he was not only caught, but made to pay for his actions. It would be very easy for the story to become overly complicated, messy and tangled, but Russell keeps the tale about Dowd and Eurell. In doing so, Russell keeps the film on track and the audience utterly engaged in this tale of a police officer who believed that he was both gangster and cop, and who still gets worked up talking about his glory days, many years later.
In all, Precinct Seven Five is a thrilling, engaging and terrifying tale of corruption and greed. The fact that Tiller Russell managed to get all the major players in this story to talk on screen is a coup for the film, and elevates it from a dry recounting of events into a sprawling but electrifying yarn. Michael Dowd is an incredible storyteller and Russell’s film is so well constructed, that it is almost impossible not to root for Dowd, even though we know from the start that he is a bad guy. Precinct Seven Five is testament to clever editing, an engaging tale and the power of strong storytelling.