EIFF 2015 – Precinct Seven Five
Precinct Seven Five -or The Seven Five- as known in the U.S. is a documentary chronicling police corruption surrounding drug trafficking during the 1980s in New York City.
I’ve actually never reviewed a documentary before so I have no idea how this is going to go. Any advice or feedback that people have will be most welcomed.
The most important thing to me for a documentary is the subject matter being something that interests me which I guess makes it the same as any film. Police corruption is a subject that has always fascinated me as it’s something that it so common in TV shows and films these days so it’s intriguing to see what level of truth there is in there.
I was actually surprised by how accurate the fictional accounts seem to be and had always assumed that to make good TV then things had to be exaggerated to a massive degree. Turns out that isn’t really the case as some of the things talked about here were more insane than anything I’d seen on TV.
The subject of this documentary is crooked cop Michael Dowd who started off by accepting the odd bribe here and there from people in exchange for letting them go and worked his way up to full on drug trafficking. It’s a pretty insane journey that he goes on and the fact that he was recounting his own experiences on this documentary added so much legitimacy to it.
Dowd leaves nothing out of his accounts. He describes everything that happened in massive detail and seems to have a sense of pride about the whole thing. It’s quite unnerving to see him talk with no hint of regret as to what he participated in. At some points he seems to be almost laughing at how easily he got away with it for so long. There is some comfort to be taken in the periodic cuts to actual footage from his hearing as this reminds us that he did eventually get caught and brought to some kind of justice.
Through Dowd’s account the viewer gets a really good idea of what initially encouraged him to participate in these illegal activities but there’s no real attempt to take sides so there is a lack of bias about it. Dowd’s apparent lack of remorse for the whole thing injects a little bias into the narrative but none of it comes from the construction of the documentary itself.
I found it interesting that the conditions that New York City cops worked under made some officers feel that there was no real difference being made to the crime rate. Enough time spent feeling like you’re wasting your time and accomplishing nothing would cause anyone to feel jaded. This is something that pretty much anyone who has worked will be able to relate to. Not that this forgives becoming a drug dealer but I could certainly empathise with the way that some of these cops felt. Dowd cites financial reasons as well as apparently cops don’t really get paid a fair wage for risking their lives every day. Again, being underpaid is something many can relate to so it’s interesting that Dowd -and by extension the documentary- poses the “what would you have done?” question to the audience.
It’s not just Dowd who recounts the experience. It is his story but people who worked with him are also brought in. There are colleagues within the police as well as his drug dealer contacts who worked with him to make lots of money. Nobody leaves anything out when discussing their personal experiences of the time and the variety of people interviewed helps create a more rounded picture of what went on. Archive footage and excerpts from files were also used to great effect to set up the time period and the world that these cops inhabited.
I have no real issues with the documentary as presented but I do feel that it could have been a little bit longer. There is a lot of information to take in and at times it can feel like years of accounts can pass by a little too quickly. There were parts where I didn’t immediately realise that the topic had moved on so there could have been a little room to breathe allowed. I would also be interested to know how deep the corruption ran across the police force in general and some kind of idea of what measures were taken after to look into people that were made cops in an attempt to ensure that it didn’t happen again.
A really engaging and fascinating documentary into the state of 1980s New York City through the perspective of corrupt cop Michael Dowd.
The narrative is focused on him and he personally recounts what he did and how he did it. It’s a little unsettling to see how little remorse he seems to have for his actions as well as the pride he seems to have in getting away from it for so long.
Dowd’s account does provide some context to his mindset through relatable anecdotes such as feeling like any work you do makes little difference and financial troubles. The film asks the viewer “what would you have done?” and lets the facts speak for themselves.
The other people featured help create a fuller account of what went on and who was involved. I found the use of archive footage and excerpts of files to be really effective in setting the scene as well.
I think the whole thing could have been a little longer as some of it seemed to rush by a little quickly. I was also left wondering what had changed to stop this happening again.
If you’re interested in corrupt police officers and how they get away with it then absolutely check this one out. I found it to be a fairly effortless watch.