Tag Archives: Crime

Cops and Robbers – The Seven Five Precinct

New York City's Police Precinct Seven Five
New York City’s Police Precinct Seven Five

In the early 1990s one Brooklyn gangster, Adam Diaz, sold a kilo of cocaine for $34,000. He sold roughly 300 kilos a week.

Despite operating in a crime-ridden chronically poor neighbourhood, despite the temptation presented by the vast sums of money involved, Diaz never feared his key shipments of drugs would be intercepted.

He had bought his own police escort.

Precinct Seven Five is a documentary telling the story of Michael Dowd, ‘New York’s Most Corrupt Cop’, whom Diaz paid $4000 a week for his services. And what services they were for a serving New York City police officer to provide to one of his precinct’s biggest criminals.

It’s a truly remarkable tale. Almost literally incredible. The truth seems so far-fetched that it would be almost impossible to get anyone to believe the events recounted over these 106 minutes if this was a summer action blockbuster.

Director Tiller Russell uses interwoven interviews with the real-life people to let them tell their own stories in their own words. Explanatory voice-overs are kept to a bare minimum and this makes for a hugely engaging experience for the viewer.

Russell is thoroughly blessed in that the cops and the robbers that form his cast of characters at the heart of the story are all larger than life, almost manically voluble and only rescued from verging into Soprano-esque stereotypes by virtue of the fact that we know they are all real people.

The result is riveting. By times funny, shocking and horrifying, it makes movies like ‘The Departed’ appear understated and restrained – yet these are real people and real events you’re forced to remind yourself every so often, not fictional caricatures.

Michael Dowd
Michael Dowd

Michael Dowd is the hinge on which everything else turns. He joined the NYPD almost straight after high school in the early 1980s. He had no great interest in the NYPD, he just happened to get his result from the Police Department before the Fire Department. The FDNY should thank its lucky stars it never secured the services of Mikey Dowd.

Charming, unscrupulous, up-for-anything ‘Mad Mikey’ cared mostly about being a good cop. He explains this as not being about good policing, about solving crime and catching criminals, but about always, absolutely always, backing up your fellow cops – no matter what.

As Dowd later explained to the Mollen Commission, which investigated corruption in the NYPD, cops who were not regarded as ‘good’ by their colleagues might find help slow in arriving when they needed it. In a precinct like the Seven Five in the 1980s and 1990s – described by cops and criminal alike as a ‘warzone’ with hundreds of reported incidents every day –  slow or no backup could be a death sentence.

This unbreakable code of silence, a blue omerta,  led many of the officers of the Seven Five precinct to serve and protect themselves, with Dowd as their exemplar.

He recalls on camera how he first left the straight and narrow by taking a few hundred dollars to look the other way during a routine traffic stop of a suspected drug dealer. Dowd was short on cash and a long way from pay-day.

Once he’d cottoned on to this new lucrative scheme, things soon escalated and expanded. Other cops refused to work with him until he struck up a connection with relative newcomer Kenny Eurell.

Eurell’s initial idealism soon faded as he was drawn into the murky world of Mike Dowd. Taking a one-off $100 dollars from one of Dowd’s schemes quickly gave way to fully fledged involvement in burglaries, then robbing drug dealers, and eventually working for them – principally Adam Diaz.

Dowd grew so comfortable in the criminal world and so far from his police oath that he set up his own drug dealing racket on Long Island.

Eventually that came led to his ultimate downfall. But that’s an outcome best and ably described on-screen by those who brought it about first-hand.

If you can at all get a chance to see this documentary, do.

It leaves fictional TV and movies in the halfpenny place by a country mile. Truth is not only stranger than fiction but far more dangerous.

Sabotage – One of the Strangest Films I’ve Ever Seen

Sabotage - Not a typical Arnie movie by a long shot
Sabotage – Not a typical Arnie movie by a long shot

I had an hour or so to kill today within striking distance of a cinema so I took a chance on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new film, Sabotage.

Hours later I’m at a loss as to how to describe it. It’s not bad, not great, just…..strange.

First off it’s not a typical Arnie movie. Rated 16s in Ireland, it’s very graphically gory at regular intervals. Pools of blood, piles of body organs, bullets ripping through flesh. Plus a little nudity and robust language. Far from run-of-the-mill fare for Schwarzenegger.

Equally he’s joined in the cast by other big name actors – Mireille Enos, Olivia Williams, Sam Worthington and Terence Howard. Josh Holloway, Harold Perrineau Jr., Martin Donovan and Max Martini will be familiar faces from TV. So, not a one man band star vehicle, again unusual.

The storyline centres John ‘Breacher’ Wharton (Schwarzenegger), leading a rough and ready ultra macho ragtag band of DEA agents carrying out special operations against major drug smugglers. During one raid $10 million goes missing; Breacher and team are suspended. The rest of the film resolves what happened to the money – and who’s systematically slaughtering members of the team one by one by ever more inventively gruesome means.

Scene after scene of blood and gore should be distinctly uncomfortable to watch – for me especially since I have an unfortunate tendency to get woozy when the red stuff flows. But here lies the problem with the film: we never really get engaged enough to care much what happens. Nor do any of the characters on screen react with much shock or horror, or anything near what might be expected in the situations in which they find themselves. Resigned and fatalistic veterans they may be, but if the characters don’t care about themselves, why should we?

Which oddly is not to say the that the film is boring. Sabotage manages to hold the attention, but the viewer remains at a distance, a casual observer always conscious of being on the outside looking in. You never become involved enough to have any strong feelings, let alone engrossed enough to be fearful or anxious. Given the oceans of blood, no-holds barred violence and legions of painful deaths on display this ironically works to the film’s advantage.

For an action/crime film with a high quota of murders, it has little tension or suspense. Despite the presence of talented actors (and Arnold), we learn little about any of the characters, their past or what makes them tick. Despite numerous references to the team being ‘a family’ and loud pledges to ‘take a bullet for them’ nothing on screen convinces or explains why this might be so. The script is basic and minimalist, to the point of parody in places. Some lines exist solely to mark Arnie out from the herd. They add nothing and often seem badly out of place, as do many scenes that could well be from an entirely different version of the story. Indeed at times it seems the film was edited from a number of diverging storylines that took alternative approaches, and the finished version ultimately fails to reconcile the differences and patch the joins smoothly.

Overall, the tone varies from comedy scenes in the early section of the film to dark and dour. On a few occasions the director has thrown in some sporadic experimentation, using unusual camera angles and views – a perspective looking from the barrel of a gun as it fires, or toward it; one scene where present action and flashback are blended together so as to mislead the viewer, others where they merely feature alongside one another. No consistency in approach or application, just a few irregular and erratic moments. It’s almost like everybody involved lost interest at some point or had somewhere else they needed to be.

Mireille Enos has the strongest and most memorable performance, followed closely by Olivia Williams. Arnold plays Arnold like only Arnold can, his Austrian accent as impervious to softening as the Alps are to weather.

For the novelty value, worth a look.