While America’s police flood the news with reports of questionable conduct, one would expect a documentary addressing their venality to be a dense, multi-layered work exposing flaws in the system. Yet while Director Tiller Russell’s Precinct Seven Five focuses on just one, albeit substantial, account of mass corruption within a single precinct, it remains a vivacious and entertaining exposé.

In 1994 Brooklyn, Police Officer Michael Dowd was convicted for several years’ worth of criminal activities and acts of corruption within the notorious Precinct Seven Five. Dowd fashioned an operation of shady police figures to undertake various inside jobs for massive financial gain. Russell’s film charts Dowd’s journey from dubious cop to a drug addled insider. Initially engaging in small scale thefts, Dowd’s crimes soon escalated to drug pushing, burglaries and deterring rival barons.

Dowd’s story is mostly captured via dynamic interviews with the fraudulent cop and his troupe of sullied lawmen but Precinct Seven Five lacks an élan execution fitting to its incredible subject matter. Flat visuals, stock story-telling devices and stale genre traits hinder the whole but it’s still huge fun due to its fascinating characters.

Family members, associates and uncorrupted cop colleagues contribute colourful anecdotes all relayed with a fiery enthusiasm and Precinct Seven Five comes alive when conversing with the ominous underworld dwellers. One specific dapper drug baron is hilarious but the film relies too much on these talking head sequences where unique visual devices would have strengthened the content and enriched the context.

News footage combined with home movies and security camera evidence meld for a clichéd mishmash of imagery. Meanwhile the anti is upped in the second half as Dowd’s story escalates into madcap terrain for a barmy crime spree finale: a resolution that would translate well into a fictional film (one is already in the works).

A slow first half spends too much time establishing the numerous characters and their roles in the saga. New characters are introduced throughout (80s cop movie archetypes) and the crimes unravel at such an alarming rate you begin to question the authenticity let alone their audacity.

Precinct Seven Five amounts to a unimaginatively produced work but one that’s enjoyable due to its zesty frontmen and their fascinating fables. It’s hard to empathise with Dowd as he shows little genuine sincerity when expressing apparent regret (more of a suppressed glee) but he remains an intriguing and amusing showman, like some kind of De Niro/Pesci hybrid. Like the film, Dowd is entertaining yet not always loveable.

Precinct Seven Five
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Daniel Goodwin is a prevalent film writer for multiple websites including HeyUGuys, Scream Horror Magazine, Little White Lies, i-D and Dazed. After studying Film, Media and Cultural Studies at university and Creative Writing at the London School of Journalism, Daniel went on to work in TV production for Hat Trick Productions, So Television and The London Studios. He has also worked at the Home Office, in the private office of Hilary Benn MP and the Coroner's and Burials Department, as well as on the Movies on Pay TV market investigation for the Competition Commission.