The Thin Blue Line (1988)
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Movie InfoOn November 28, 1976, Ohio resident Randall Dale Adams was stranded on a lonely road outside Dallas when his car ran out of gas. Adams accepted a ride from teenager David Harris, not knowing that Harris was driving a stolen car. Later that same evening, Dallas police officer Robert Wood was shot and killed when he pulled over the selfsame car. Two witnesses, including Harris, fingered Adams as the trigger man. Condemned to execution for the murder, Adams' sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1979. Flash forward to the early 1980s: Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (Gates of Heaven), while preparing a film on a Dallas psychiatrist who frequently testified in murder cases, read the court transcripts of Adams' trial. Convinced that Adams, who never faltered in his protestations of innocence, was unfairly treated by the court, Morris began working on a film on the subject. The result was the classic documentary feature The Thin Blue Line--and the reopening of the Robert Wood murder case and eventual freeing of Adams on March 15, 1988. Enhanced by hallucinatory re-enacted scenes, not to mention the mesmerizing musical score by Philip Glass, The Thin Blue Line is a superlative example of "advocacy" filmmaking. … More
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Critic Reviews for The Thin Blue Line
Arguably no other film of the 1980s, fiction or non-fiction, was as significant in blurring the boundaries between what's reel and real and in demonstrating the remarkable impact a movie could have.
Errol Morris' breakout documentary is immaculate.
Accomplished but detached; you're pulled in, but you couldn't be blamed for resisting.
Furthering its genre irregularity, it employs no narration to guide the viewer, and each shot is carefully static and composed. Its central scene, even, is a fabricated element in what is largely a non-fiction film.
Audience Reviews for The Thin Blue Line
Morris' central achievement in my opinion is placing the viewer non-partially into the judge's chair and, in very, very quiet tones, simply asks you to be the judge, to make a decision: who is the murderer here? The evidence is placed before you without fanfare; the murder, the accused, the suspected, the witnesses, the suspicions, the allegations, the conjecture, the blame. I was in the midst of deciding before I realised how skillfully I had been made to give a damn.More
"A softcore movie, Dr. Death, a chocolate milkshake, a nosey blonde and "The Carol Burnett Show." Solving this mystery is going to be murder."
A film that successfully argued that a man was wrongly convicted for murder by a corrupt justice system in Dallas County, Texas.
The film happened almost by accident: Morris became sidetracked while researching another project and began to investigate, on film, the case of Adams and Harris, two strangers whose paths crossed in Dallas one night in November of 1976. What the documentary maker discovered from his own methodical accumulation of clues, rumors, and offhand testimony was an overwhelming case against the young drifter David Harris, who clearly fingered Adams for his own crime. Morris was aided by a convincing and articulate defense presented by Adams himself, whose calm recitation of facts is often more hypnotic than the ominous Philip Glass music score.
Director Errol Morris reconstructs the case using old film footage, odd graphic digressions, dramatic reenactments, and interviews with almost everyone involved, including the likely true killer, who tacitly admits his guilt in the final scene. The film is more artfully arranged than most documentaries, and yet is so honest in its pursuit of the truth that it proved instrumental in correcting a miscarriage of justice (after it opened, the case against Harris was reopened, and eventually overturned). The director himself remains (as usual) all but invisible throughout the film, except for his trademark deadpan irreverence (the word blue in the title is colored red, and so forth). A tragic miscarriage of justice would seem an inappropriate source of laughs, but the streak of dark humor underlines the sometimes absurd workings of an imperfect legal system.
The Thin Blue Line is the perfect documentary. Everything from the stunning reconstructions, the interviewing techniques, research, editing and even soundtrack (by the excellent Philip Glass) is perfect. You can see why this is now the blueprints for most young aspiring documentary makers, although unfortunately (in most cases) it isn't very often that a documentary can have such a huge effect on its subject matter like The Thin Blue Line did. It's a shame Randall Adams ended up being so ungrateful towards Errol Morris but as Morris so kindly put it, ' ..I just don't understand what it's like to be in prison for that long for a crime you hadn't committed.' Quite charitable really considering that he saved his life and all Adams wanted was money, talk about ungrateful. Deserved all the praise it got and still gets.More
A disturbing look at a judicial system infected with chaos and corruption, specifically in the true story of an innocent man named Randall Adams who is sentenced to life in prison for a murder he did not commit. Instead of feeling the need to put his own stamp on the story, director Errol Morris, like he did in "Gates of Heaven", elects to let the people tell the whole story. The result is a detached though interesting case of a good man who got caught in the wrong spot at the wrong time. The negligence by the Dallas County Police is nothing short of repulsive, as they continually ignore the facts of the man they should be going after, instead looking for a quick fix find to nab someone so that they can find closure for the murder of one of their own policeman. It feels longer than it is at 100 minutes, and I would have liked some sort of way to feel more attached and emotionally invested to the story, but I still found myself interested and wanting to see Adams let go. It did not happen when this film came out originally, but the influence of this movie was so great that it prompted the case to be re-opened, and Adams was released in 1989. In addition to providing a saddening story about a chunk of a man's life ruined by a lazy judicial system, this movie also serves as a testament to the power and influence film can have on our society. It can free a man from prison.More
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