The Thin Blue Line

The Thin Blue Line presents the intriguing case of Randall Adams, who allegedly murdered a police officer in Dallas, Texas. The film’s title is from a statement by the prosecutor referring to the line between peace and anarchy, represented by the police in their traditional blue uniforms. The movie tells an exceptionally interesting and thoroughly captivating story. Errol Morris presents the investigation into the murder through a series of re-enactments and interviews of the suspects and detectives and lawyers, told in a very matter of fact way. What makes the film so different is that there is no narration, and no identification of the people who are being interviewed. The re-enactments don’t quite show the viewer everything. The point here is that the search for truth and justice is not an easy one. So many things are not what they seem. Morris allows all sides to present alternative accounts of the events, showing the viewer objects and re-enactments that support each story. This has the effect of turning the viewer into an investigator or jury member. The viewer is repeatedly shown images and re-enactments of what may have happened at the scene of the crime, so the somewhat repetitive music of Phillip Glass works perfectly with this film, and it is also a bit eerie in that the music doesn’t change, no matter what is happening on screen. This film reflects a very specific film style, 1940s film noir, filtered through the documentary tradition and the style of the 1980s. The documentary keeps the story moving and drawing us further into its dark murky web. With absolutely no narration or opinion, the principles just speak for themselves and are totally convincing that the wrong guy went to jail. This eventual revelation that arises from the cumulative testimony of all the people interviewed transitions the film into an entirely different realm of documentary. It is a revelation of corruption and a perfect example of our legal system flat-out failing to do its job. It’s an amazing tale of justice being skewed to create a conviction, regardless of the facts or evidence. So Randall Adams, a white-man with no previous criminal history, was convicted for the murder of a Dallas police officer thanks to a lazy detective work, thin circumstantial evidence and some of the sleaziest “eye witnesses” in the history of jurisprudence. Filmmaker Errol Morris’s gripping investigation into the murder of the Dallas police officer was responsible for freeing this man who was originally — and erroneously — charged with and convicted of the crime. Combining his nearly obsessive concern for the truth with his experience as a private detective, Morris unearths a plethora of misconceptions and flat-out lies that made it clear Adams was being framed. Publicity surrounding the film resulted in his case being re-opened, exonerating Adams. Originally sent to death row, Adams’ sentence was soon commuted to life in prison by a system that knew the case against him was weak at best, but didn’t want the embarrassment of admitting it. Ultimately and thankfully, this documentary allowed justice to prevail, and Adams was finally released from prison after serving over 12 years for a crime he didn’t commit. This film is fascinating in its portrayal of the flawed nature of both the justice system and police force in Dallas. It brings to light facts revealing why the Dallas District Attorney’s Office and police department have long been considered among the most corrupt in the nation, with nearly unanimous contempt for justice from the District Attorney and several judges involved. There is a reason why Dallas has convicted innocent people, and why so many inmates in Dallas within the last five years have been set free due to DNA evidence exonerating them. Errol Morris has crafted a superb documentary with one of the finest scores of any feature or documentary. Good film, sad story. Riveting and frightening. This is a great film that should be made mandatory in every law enforcement agency and school of law. Not only did this film free an innocent man, it also revolutionized the documentary film. After more than 30 years the film’s stylish presentation still feels fresh and compelling. Quite a masterpiece of a film. Morris truly created his own genre of documentary, with so many innovations in documentary film that all subsequent directors owe homage to. Errol Morris shows why he’s one of the most respected documentary film-makers of all time. All his films have this polish and style to them that separates his documentaries from the rest. Absolutely stunning. Errol Morris at his best. Documentary-making at its best. Muckraking, thought-provoking and honest. Watch it. If you’re a fan of documentary films, this is a must-see. This is one of the greatest documentaries ever made. The Thin Blue Line is the benchmark documentary against which all others should be measured. This documentary really helped open up the genre to a wider audience. And thanks to film-makers who force us to see what’s really going on. Documentary 1988 NR 102 minutes.


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