Film Review: The Seven Five

A documentary about New York City’s most dishonorable cop, whose countless sordid stories fail to impart anything new about law-enforcement criminality.
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Once dubbed “Dirtiest Cop Ever” by The New York Post, former New York City police officer Michael Dowd proves a case study in repugnant amorality in The Seven Five, a nonfiction account of Dowd’s reign of crime and corruption during the 1980s in the 75th Brooklyn Precinct that gives this film its title. Dominated by interviews with Dowd, his complicit partner Kenneth Eurell, drug kingpin Adam Diaz, and Baron Perez (an auto-body shop owner who functioned as a go-between for Dowd and Perez), Tiller Russell’s documentary is, on a superficial level, a gripping blow-by-blow account of one cop’s descent into trafficking, burglary and other assorted wrongdoings. All of that Scorsese-esque action is recounted by Dowd (in new interviews) with a gleeful enthusiasm that’s at odds with his 1993 testimony before a grand jury, during which Dowd affects a straight-faced lack of emotion that more fully speaks to his unrepentant me-first, anything-goes approach to law enforcement.

That career began unremarkably, with Dowd joining the force seemingly on a whim, and being assigned to the 75th Precinct, which Tiller depicts as a rundown hellhole plagued by soaring murder rates and a crack cocaine epidemic. There, after a couple of years of busting junkies and low-level hoods, Dowd discovered he could use his badge as a means of stealing drugs and cash from those he was supposedly arresting. When his initial forays into criminality didn’t result in any trouble, Dowd figured he had free rein to do as he pleased, and even as his reputation as a dirty cop grew among his fellow officers, Dowd’s sense of invincibility pushed him toward ever more dangerous gambles. Soon, he was working as a protection service for–and then actual drug-distribution colleague of–Diaz, whose time on camera is spent recounting Dowd’s brazen embrace of the illicit lifestyle, and whose commentary thus further underlines the scant difference between Dowd and the murderous narcotics crooks with whom he aligned himself.

Throughout, Dowd makes no attempt to shy away from his uglier deeds, nor does he make excuses for why he did it: greed and arrogance. As such, Russell’s film functions as a stark portrait of one man’s unremorseful lack of ethics. Unfortunately, it makes that point approximately one-third of the way through its 104-minute runtime, meaning that much of its story is simply a series of ever-more-redundant anecdotes about Dowd ripping off this drug dealer, stealing from that scumbag, and avoiding arrest through one clever (or lucky) maneuver. The Seven Five has a wealth of shocking tales about NYC’s finest behaving at their worst, but offers little illuminating insight into the underlying forces driving cops to skirt the law (They can get away with it!) or to stay quiet (“Good” officers don’t rat on their fellow comrades).

Perhaps if Russell’s direction weren’t so dully straightforward, this material might have resonated more strongly. However, employing a stock variety of talking-head clips and archival photos and footage (and the occasional reenactment), The Seven Five has the look and feel of a made-for-TV production–a shortcoming almost as frustrating as the fact that Dowd’s saga ultimately comes across as merely an extreme variation of a story told many times before.

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