Arts & Books

Film review: A riveting exposé of crime and corruption in New York

Michael Dowd: 'like Joe Pesci after 12 double espressos'

Precinct Seven Five is a documentary that will grab your attention and hold it. Named after a New York precinct that was, in the 1980s, a hell of crack dealing, violence and police corruption, the film zeroes in on NYPD officer, Michael Dowd, who’s the kind of dodgy cop that perhaps even Chandler or Ellroy might struggle to conceive. Via a series of interviews, Dowd, his partner Kenny Eurell, the other members of their crew and DEA and Internal Affairs officers, describe the rise and fall of a criminal empire that was built on bribery, armed robbery and collusion with drug dealers.

Dowd is like Joe Pesci after 12 double espressos. As he speaks in rat-a-tat rhythms, it becomes easy to understand how the quieter-spoken Eurell was drawn to him. The sparkle-eyed drug trafficker Adam Diaz is another extraordinary character to emerge. Wildly entertaining and deeply sinister, he goes from extolling the virtues of Bryan Adams to casually describing his guilt-free attitude towards murder without missing a beat.

It’s a shame that, with such a great story at his disposal, director Tiller Russell struggles to tell it artfully. There is footage from a public inquiry that Dowd gave evidence at in the early 1990s, but there must have been little else in the way of archive material to work with. Russell’s way of dealing with this problem is to switch between talking heads and unenlightening photographs and grainy film footage of the streets of New York. Despite this major flaw, Precinct Seven Five is still quite a watch, its power coming directly from Russell’s interviewees, and the men and women who lived every moment of this bleak tale.

Trainwreck is the latest comedy to roll off the Judd Apatow conveyor belt. Having worked variously as producer, director and writer on films such as Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Bridesmaids, Apatow has, unfortunately, come to define the modern American comedy. Here he takes the directorial reins, with Amy Schumer his writer and star, and like most films that Apatow has a hand in, it’s a bizarre hybrid of sex-obsessed comedy and socially conservative morality tale.

Schumer plays Amy, a woman who hates the idea of settling down. She meets a sensible sports doctor and her road to learning the error of her ways plays out just as you might expect. There are some funny moments, including Amy delivering a bittersweet eulogy at a funeral, but not enough to warrant the tortuous running time or to allay the air of smugness that pervades the whole enterprise. At one point, Trainwreck quotes Manhattan, undoubtedly one of the greatest romantic comedies ever made. It doesn’t make for a flattering comparison.

Precinct Seven Five – Three stars
Trainwreck – Two stars

This article first appeared in the latest edition of the Catholic Herald magazine (14/8/15).

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