It says something about the brazen, sordid nature of the story behind Tiller Russell's documentary "The Seven Five" that it could be cast with such a uniformly despicable gang of reprobates, and still be impossible to not watch. Focusing on one of the worst cases of police corruption in New York City history (a case ultimately cracked by Suffolk County cops, who learned ringleader NYPD Officer Michael Dowd, then a Port Jefferson Station resident, and four other NYPD cops, were distributing drugs on Long Island.) Tiller employs all the tired cliches of an MSNBC news special -- insistent, throbbing music, cheesy re-creations, horror-movie lighting and ominous editing. But the abuse of power is so flagrant and unashamed you can only gape at the perpetrators.
Beginning in the mid-'80s, Dowd and his partner, Kenny Eurell, collaborated with a drug dealer in East New York to not only inform him of any coming police action, but to attack and rob his competition, take huge payoffs and undermine efforts to alleviate the local crack epidemic. Other cops were involved, and we hear from them, but the principals are Dowd, and his almost faithful follower, Eurell. (Dowd served time in prison on racketeering and cocaine trafficking charges).
There's something morbidly fascinating about police officers who remain so evidently gleeful about how they were rewarded for abdicating their duty and violating their oath. And Russell's no pillar of moral substance either: By the end of the film, after Eurell has saved himself by informing on Dowd, the movie is far more sympathetic toward Dowd. Which makes for something of a paradoxical situation: When we see Dowd testifying before the corruption-investigating Mollen Commission, he defines a "good cop" as one who never squeals on another, regardless of the crime, or the cost. But the natural inclination among viewers, filmmakers and, of course, police officers, is to root against the "rat." "The Seven Five," ultimately, takes the easy way out.