'The Seven Five': Film Review

Courtesy of IFC Films
This compelling true-life tale plays like "Prince of the City" meets "Goodfellas"

Tiller Russell's documentary chronicles the misdeeds of the infamous, corrupt NYC cop Michael Dowd

That its true-life tale seems all too familiar is one of the saddest aspects of Tiller Russell's compelling documentary about former NYC police officer Michael Dowd, once described as the "most corrupt cop ever." Detailing his malfeasances with a clinical rigor enlivened by its subject's undeniable enthusiasm in telling his story, The Seven Five plays like the flip side of Serpico as might be directed by Martin Scorsese. There's even a Rolling Stones song on the soundtrack.

Beginning with footage of Dowd testifying before a commission investigating police corruption in 1993—his numb, emotionless demeanor as he admits to committing "hundreds of crimes" providing a stark contrast to the modern-day interviews—the film chronicles his descent from an ordinary young police officer who began serving in 1982 in East Brooklyn's 75th precinct to a Scarface-like drug kingpin.

It began, in his telling, in relatively minor fashion, when he accepted a $200 bribe during a traffic stop. Explaining that he felt "unappreciated," he describes how he began stealing—first money, then drugs—from the criminals he was apprehending.

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"Forget about Beverly Hills," another cop comments. "The ghetto is one of the richest places there is."

And a ghetto it was, a five-mile square stretch of crack cocaine-plagued territory that one interview subject says "would scare Clint Eastwood."

He was eventually joined in his corruption by a new partner, Kenny Eurell, who despite his initial misgivings was unwilling to go against the unspoken police code of ratting out a fellow officer. Allying themselves with such criminals as Adam Diaz, a Dominican drug lord, and Baron Perez, who ran his drug operation out of a car stereo shop (both men provide their side of the story), the dirty cops were soon pocketing thousands of dollars a week.

But as anyone who saw Goodfellas knows, their downfall was inevitable. As one internal affairs investigator puts it, "There's never enough," and it certainly applied to Dowd, who became addicted to cocaine himself and whose reckless behavior included buying a flashy new red Corvette which he would actually drive to work. His explanation: that he and his wife took turns using the car, and it was simply his time.

With their behavior escalating to the point of planning a kidnapping and murder scheme that was only foiled by a sting operation, Eurell eventually turned against his partner, cooperating with investigators and managing to avoid jail time while Dowd served twelve years.

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Years later, Dowd seems agonized about the events. Not about what he did, but rather his partner's betrayal.

"It felt as though I was cheated on by my wife," he whines.

Although the film features interviews with many of the principals involved, including Eurell, his wife, and the detectives who brought them down, it's Dowd who proves the most compelling subject, regaling the camera with horrific anecdotes related in a colorfully profane manner as if he was auditioning for a featured role in a cop film…which he probably is.

Director Russell adheres to a familiar, at times rote style, with the procession of talking heads accompanied by the usual assemblage of archival footage and photographs. But even if the presentation is sometimes pedestrian, the story itself is utterly engrossing.     

Production: All3Media America
Director: Tiller Russell
Producers: Eli Holzman, Aaron Saidman, Sheldon Yellen
Executive producer: Stephen Lambert
Director of photography: Igor Martinovic
Editors: Chad Beck, James Carroll
Composers: Amy Marie Beauchamp, Jose Cansela

Rated R, 102 min.