In July 1992, 31-year-old Michael Dowd was arrested by the New York City Police Department & the Drug Enforcement Administration on suspicion of racketeering and conspiracy to distribute narcotics. The government and the media had him pegged as somebody who pocketed thousands of dollars every week working as an enforcer for drug lords, a violent and dangerous man who bought, sold and used drugs, committed robberies, kidnappings and obstruction of justice. He was painted as a scourge who had a large hand in making Brooklyn the nightmarish hellhole that it was during the 1980s, and every detail was true. What made his case particularly special? For the past 10 and a half years, Dowd had worked a full-time job as an officer in the NYPD.
As soon as the documentary opens, we are introduced to Dowd and his former colleagues Ken Eurell, Walter Yurkiw and Henry Guevara (who is predominantly referred to by the nickname ‘Chicky’). Right off the bat, it becomes apparent that it isn’t merely the kinetic, Scorcese-style editing and use of 1970s hard rock that has led to the documentary being labelled ‘Goodfellas in Blue’. The four men immediately communicate a very direct, hard-nosed attitude about life and the job, and their language is foul throughout, the assertive Queens & Brooklyn tones screaming ‘gangster’ more loudly than they ever would ‘cop’. Having all been on the receiving end of tough, quintessentially New York upbringings, they relate their respective stories about their academy graduations and neophyte phase as beat cops, and it appears that a simultaneous resentment began to foment early on. The foursome were pissed off at making a few hundred dollars a week to risk their lives each day whilst prolific criminals swaggered around with thousands in disposable cash and walked scot-free on technicalities. Upon all of their paths converging at the titular 75th Precinct in Brooklyn (at the time, the most violent precinct in the city), the other three men were already familiar with, and wary of, Dowd’s reputation as a morally questionable, volatile and ungovernable policeman. But they had yet to find out how deep a rabbit hole they’d allow him to take them down.
Michael Dowd was the inspiration for (and is the focal subject of) The Seven Five, and the vocalised biography the audience receives from him is by turns charming, amusing, intimidating and utterly repellent. From his first shakedown at around the age of 23 (he convinced a money-wadded young punk to ‘treat him to a lobster dinner’ in exchange for letting him off the hook), Dowd became progressively more reckless and cowboy-like, illegally confiscating firearms, drugs and drug money for himself, accepting larger bribes, openly challenging criminals to violent, extrajudicial confrontations, and ultimately coming into contact with Adam Diaz, boss of the Diaz Organisation. At the time, Diaz was the wealthiest, most powerful and most organised drug lord in New York City, and it took very little time for Dowd to convince him that he wasn’t so much a policeman as he was a fellow mobster with a badge. He helped Diaz organise drug deals, tipped off him and his cronies about possible investigations and raids, provided them with department-issued guns and badges, he even delivered apprehended informants into their custody to be done God-knows-what with. By this point, Ken Eurell had evolved from somebody who had previously begged not to be partnered with Dowd into his best friend, having been seduced by Dowd’s bravado, ambition and charisma, not to mention the fact that even though he moonlighted as a criminal, he was still palpably ultra-loyal to his fellow cops.
With Eurell, Yurkiw & Chicky having all become ensnared by Dowd’s devil-may-care policing and promises of enormous financial gain, the four officers became the ringleaders of what was essentially a twentysomething-strong police paramilitary wing of the Diaz Organisation, sending rival drug gangs running scared and making NYPD superiors highly suspicious at how one wild and very ostentatious Dominican crime boss could be avoiding police attention with such consistency. The three corrupt officers, along with Eurell’s wife, other strait-laced NYPD personnel and even Adam Diaz himself all appear on camera to relate their individual stories about how much of a raving lunatic Dowd was, reminiscing about instances such as his driving into work in a car that would have been far too expensive to afford on his salary, openly and angrily challenging contracts that rival dealers had put on his head, and spinning bullshit yarns to his bosses about the failure to capture key New York crime figures (whilst also being drunk and high on cocaine). Long gone were the days of Frank Serpico fighting tooth-and-nail to expose low-key and clandestine police corruption in the form of bribe collection; this new generation of dirty cops may as well have been the Sixth Family of La Cosa Nostra.
When it comes to Dowd as a personality, The Seven Five certainly becomes entrenched in some rather murky and disturbing territory. While the punchy and engrossing presentation is a brilliant aesthetic choice for his entertaining and often funny tell-all, this is still a man who was not above committing some truly heinous crimes in order to stay financially comfortable, the flippancy and fervour with which he regales pointing to a troubling question: Is this guy a genuinely remorseful and reformed character, or did he just get wiser with age and prison? Even after 12.5 years inside (he was released in 2006), stints as a technical consultant on police procedural films & tv and even some after-dinner speaking on police corruption, Dowd still communicates a kind of wistfulness and joviality when discussing his hair-raising past deeds. He even capitalised on his notoriety a few years ago by teaming up with Diaz again, this time to release a new cigar brand named…? Yep, The Seven Five. At risk of libel, one thinks the ‘former’ crooked cop might just be a dyed-in-the-wool sociopath.
Funny, shocking, chaotic and shamefully enjoyable, The Seven Five is easily one of the best documentaries to be released in recent years, with a tough and cynical stylishness that evokes Martin Scorcese & Sidney Lumet (director Tiller Russell must be commended on how fluidly he apes his influences) and a once-in-a-lifetime, you-couldn’t-make-it-up narrative that unfortunately retains only a cult following, even though it deserves to be readily recognisable in the popular culture. Get your ass on Prime or Netflix (or even the Youtube link I’ll drop at the end, provided it stays up ;)), forgo the typical Scientology and killer neighbours drivel and strap yourself in for a crazy, worthwhile ride.