Originally being shown at Sundance in 2014, Precinct Seven Five almost slipped under the radar with me. I only found out about it when looking up the releases that were scheduled for the 2015 summer period, and upon investigation I became extremely excited to watch it. Does it live up to the expectations and the reviews?
Precinct Seven Five stars Michael Dowd, Ken Eurell, Walter Yurkiw and Dori Eurell and is directed by Tiller Russell. Focusing on the 75th Precinct in New York City during the crime rise of the 1980s and the 1990s, Precinct Seven Five follows the cops who used the situation to their advantage, becoming both police officers and criminals.
Precinct Seven Five starts with the testimony and trial of police officer Michael Dowd. He starts to be quizzed by a member of the commission and he admits to the crimes that he has committed over the past years. Burglary, extortion, drug trafficking, its all here. It’s a brilliant way to start the film, giving us a list of the crimes that we are about to see unravel in the film, knowing that eventually, they will all come back to put him behind bars. The film keeps jumping back to the testimony every ten to twenty minutes, with these brief exchanges telling us the audience that a new sequence of debauched acts are about to take place.
The amount of research and footage is amazing. Credit to the filmmakers for probably pouring through hours of news footage, mugshots, maps and tape recordings. But all that time spent pays off, with the film seamlessly flitting from one to the other, filling in the backstory and showing us the situation in New York in the late 80s. Credit must also be given to the filmmakers for being able to find all of the major people involved and getting them to agree to share their stories.
We spend the majority of the films running time with the retired cops Michael Dowd and Ken Eurell, and their eventual descent into the life of crime. Even so, the film paints the two in a light where we understand what their motivation for becoming a little bit crooked. It’s like a good Scorsese film, we relate to the main character even when they’re destroying the innocent lives around them. It gets to a point in Precinct Seven Five when a former gang boss who the pair worked for subtly hints that he may have had a man killed, and you find yourself unable to root against the two main players.
To go back to the comparison with Martin Scorsese, the film, despite being a documentary, follows a chronological sequence, with the interviews of Dowd and Eurell, along with fellow officers “Chicky” and Walter being brought back in and out when the film calls for it. The story feels just like one of the famed directors best works, as we watch the ultimately flawed individuals reap the rewards of being a crooked cop and not stop when they going was good and resting on their ill gotten gains. Instead we watch, getting almost infuriated as we watch them lose everything around them.
There are moments when the film cuts away to other cops, such as Joe Hall and DEA agent Mike Norster who were tracking the corrupt cops down, and it feels much like The Departed or Infernal Affairs, rather than something that actually took place. There are even times when car chases and shootouts are the subject of the film, and even though most of the time all we have is the narration and the real footage (with small parts of reconstruction), the film is still a lot more pulse pounding and thrilling than it really should be. It’s sometimes even better than some recent cop dramas.
The only problem I had with Precinct Seven Five was the length of it. Even though the film is only around one hour and forty minutes, the film feels a lot longer than it is. It may be due to the fact of the repetitive nature of the film. By the third or fourth time we’ve seen or heard that Dowd and Eurell are getting deeper and deeper into the world of crime, it feels like we’ve heard the overall narrative before with only the minutest difference in the details. However, the film does come back around again in the final ten minutes with another Scorsese-esque moment, giving the ending a really good punch. Stick around during the first few moments of the credits as well for one last interview where the police officer Joe Hall tells the story of watching Dowd eventually go to jail.
In conclusion, Precinct Seven Five is a thrilling and exciting documentary with a main story that is on a par with most classic gangster films. If you can stomach the copious amounts of swearing and the gruesome injury detail that is sometimes shown or mentioned, then you’ll see one of the greatest hits of the summer.
Score: 9/10 A crime story so enthralling you’ll find it hard to believe it was true.
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