A Cops and Robbers Story
(USA, 84 min.)
Dir. Ilinca Calugareanu
Corey Pegues led a double life for decades. The fast-talking charismatic Black New Yorker carved out such a successful career in the city’s police department that he ended up being a commanding officer before he retired. His youth, though, was hardly the stuff that one expects from future members of New York’s Finest. As a teenager, Pegues was part of the Supreme Team, a notorious Queens drug gang, infamous for its violence and ruthlessness. How did he transform from a crack dealer to an acclaimed cop? And what did it cost him psychologically?
The best thing about Ilinca Calugareanu’s documentary A Cops and Robbers Story is her access to Corey Pegues. The former cop, military man and drug dealer is a motivational speaker now and, boy, can he talk. Calugareanu, who is a Romanian living in London, seems to have been quite taken by Pegues’ charm and ability to dramatize every event in his life. He has a story to tell—his autobiography—and Pegues knows how to represent himself in the most positive light possible. All Calugareanu can do to offer a bit of objectivity is to include the occasional irreverent word from some of Pegues’ relatives—mostly female—and some disparaging comments from his former friends in the police force.
To hear Pegues tell it, there was a moment in his street gang life when everything could have gone south. He had been hit on the head with a revolver—and even worse, disrespected in public—by another young gangster. Corey went back out on the tough Queens streets with a pistol to shoot his attacker, but the gun jammed at the critical moment. Instead of being a murderer, he was on the run, and only a timely police bust and Pegues’ disappearance from the ‘hood followed by enlistment in the Army kept him alive.
After being in the military, Pegues’ opinion is that New York’s police department was an easy place to be. After joining, he rose up the ranks quickly, passing department tests easily, although some officers found his language and street smarts to be very off-putting. He was investigated but never found out.
Now that he’s retired, all would be fine and there would be no doc, except for the fact that Pegues couldn’t stop himself from telling his remarkable life story. Once A Cop: the Street, the Law, Two Worlds, One Man became a well-reviewed and best-selling book, but it nearly cost Pegues his pension. He’s now a spokesperson against racism in the police force and a person whose reputation is important in BLM and even ‘defund the police’ movements (although Pegues is in favour of reform, not destroying law enforcement).
Calugareanu’s doc admittedly suffers from an over-abundance of Pegues’ point-of-view. We know how he wants to represent what happened to him but there’s no opposing voice. What was he like as a teenager? What motivated him to change so radically? And why did he spill the beans after keeping quiet about his gangster past for so long? We never know. Corey Pegues is an entertaining cipher, and his story never reveals his inner self. Perhaps Pegues doesn’t know either.
A Cops and Robbers Story is now in digital release.