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Plot: Errol Morris's unique documentary dramatically re-enacts the crime scene and investigation of a police officer's murder in Dallas, Texas. Briefly, a drifter (Randall Adams) ran out of gas and was picked up by a 16-year-old runaway (David Harris). Later that night, they drank some beer, smoked some marijuana, and went to the movies. Then, their stories diverged. Adams claimed that he left for his motel, where he was staying with his brother, and went to sleep. Harris, however, said that they were stopped by police late that night, and Adams suddenly shot the officer approaching their car. The film shows the audience the evidence gathered by the police, who were under extreme pressure to clear the case. It strongly makes a point that the circumstantial evidence was very flimsy. In fact, it becomes apparent that Harris was a much more likely suspect and was in the middle of a crime spree, eventually ending up on Death Row himself for the later commission of other crimes. Morris implies that the DA's and the judge's desire for the death penalty in this case (for which Harris would have been ineligible because of his youth) made Adams a scapegoat on whom to pin this heinous crime. Runtime: 103 mins Release Date: 31 Dec 1987
An astonishing look at the criminal justice system. (by mprins)
Along with 1996's Paradise Lost, The Thin Blue Line should be mandatory viewing for those who believe that the criminal justice system eventually convicts only the guilty. It is a stark and shocking look at one man behind bars and the truckloads of evidence that point toward his innocence. Documentarian Errol Morris indirectly argues that, at the very least, this evidence should have presented a "reasonable doubt" to the jury, and near the end of the movie, the audience has little choice but to accept his unbelievable findings. And the film ends with a single scene of just a <more>
tape recorder and voices that should be recognized as one of the most powerful endings to a movie, ever. A documentary masterpiece.
If there was ever a hell on earth... (by faraaj-1)
I grew up in a society that strongly believes in the death penalty - a religion injunction based on the Islamic code of justice. I remember being told a story don't know if its true of how the US President visited Saudi Arabia and on the last day of his visit he was treated to some public be-headings. When he questioned the morality of it, his host informed him that the handful of criminals punished represented the entirety of the criminal population for the past one year. The moral being that harsh punishments prevent crimes and caring too much about the aggressor leads to high crime <more>
rates. I personally lost faith in the prison system many years ago after reading about the Milgram and Stanford Prison Experiment findings. A harrowing Australian movie, Ghosts of the Civil Dead made me detest the prison system even more. In recent years Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have left a bad taste in the mouth. So, is the answer really the death penalty and other physical measures that can't be reversed? After seeing The Thin Blue Line I just don't know. This film has really affected me.An innocent hitch-hiker, and from what I saw in the documentary a decent man, is caught at the wrong time in the wrong place - a former sundown town called Vidor, Dallas County. He is implicated in the murder of a cop and is obviously innocent of the crime. The entire legal system of Vidor is bent to prosecute him. The reason: the real killer is a 16-year old and there's no benefit in finding him guilty because he can't be given the death penalty. Randall Adams, in his 20's, can and must be punished because he's a stranger to these small-minded bigots and someone must pay! Shocking that people can think that way. It makes The Ox-Bow Incident and issues it raised 70 years ago valid even today. This was no more than a judicial lynching.Fortunately, in this case Randall Adams' case was reopened and he was acquitted and released, in large measure due to this documentary and the scandal it caused. The story is exceedingly well told and the end with the tape recorded last interview with David Harris is chilling. I can't say that after watching this I still have a clear opinion of what punishment should fit a crime, but it has certainly made me question the validity of the mentality present in so many Muslim countries. Who is to say there can be no similar travesty of justice there?
One of the Greatest Docs Ever Made (by moniker_jones)
The last few years have been a golden age for documentaries. For better or worse, Michael Moore and his undeniable ability for manipulating the cinematic medium have brought this endangered genre into theaters and living rooms across the country. Most of today's casual moviegoers are relatively new to the non-fiction feature. In the case of director Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line 1988 , one film not only managed to free an innocent man from a lifetime in prison, but it also elicited a confession from the guilty party. After collecting dust on video shelves for over fifteen years, <more>
this groundbreaking documentary has finally arrived on DVD.Unless you're a devout cinephile or a video store clerk, you have probably never heard much about Errol Morris. As a member of the former category, I've been a fan of his since first renting The Thin Blue Line more than a decade ago. As I popped in that dusty VHS cassette and sat back, I relished what many critics and documentary purists had been hotly debating: Morris was taking the genre to exciting new places, whether people liked it or not.As with all successful movies, a good doc needs a good story. In 1976, Dallas County police officer Robert Wood and his partner were patrolling their district late one night. The two pulled a blue car over to the side of the road, most likely to warn the driver of a busted taillight. Moments later Officer Wood was lying on the ground, fatally wounded by a series of gunshots. His partner quickly ran to his aid, but was unable to accurately retain and recall certain information about the killer's vehicle. Was it a Vega or a Comet? Did the driver have bushy hair or a fur-lined collar? These and many other questions emerged during the rushed investigation to bring the mysterious cop-killer to justice. The film itself opens more than ten years after the murder took place. Randall Adams, an oddly charismatic good ol' boy sits before the camera, revealing what happened that unfortunate evening in late 1976. He admits to having shared a ride with a young kid named David Harris. The two apparently attended a drive-in double feature, where they both drank beer and smoked marijuana. Shortly thereafter, Adams claims to have been dropped off at his motel for the evening. Meanwhile, Morris shows us the aforementioned David Harris, now in his mid-20s, talking cryptically about that night's events. This real-life Rashomon confronts viewers with several versions of "the truth." It's unclear whether Morris instinctively knew the truth was still out there when he decided to pursue this project, but his previous experience as a private investigator seems to have paid off as we witness his off- camera interrogation of these two men.Adams, responsible or not, was determined guilty by the courts and sentenced to death. Despite having a police record as long as his shadow, David Harris became the primary witness against Adams in the case. His testimony alone might not have hung Adams, but at the last minute a trio of eyewitnesses to the crime emerged to corroborate his story. In the world of Errol Morris, people are a truly strange lot, and his greatest technique is to simply let his subjects talk and talk until their inherent weirdness becomes painfully evident. Such is the case with the three last-minute witnesses in the Adams case. The more we hear them speak, the greater that uneasy feeling in our stomach and chest becomes. We are bearing witness to a catastrophic miscarriage of justice.Morris employs a bottomless bag of tricks in this landmark film. While much of the film does rely on the presence of talking heads, he adds other elements to the mix, such as old movie footage, a haunting score by renowned composer Philip Glass, and the granddaddy of documentary no-no's: dramatic re-enactments. The latter tends to be the most challenged aspect of The Thin Blue Line, but Morris uses it fairly and wisely. He tells this twisted tale in ways few people could. A shot of a swaying timepiece or a concession stand popcorn machine suddenly amount to much more than what we're simply seeing on the screen. All of these pieces are being put together, little by little, in the hopes that by the end we will see the bigger picture.When this movie was released in 1988, it was marketed as a non-fiction film, because the word "documentary" was thought to scare off ticket-buyers. The studio's attempts to pass it off as a murder mystery failed, but the movie made a minor splash once it hit video. It picked up plenty of awards from festivals and critics groups, but the Oscars didn't even bother nominating it. In fact, the Academy didn't so much as nod in Morris' direction until early 2004, when they nominated The Fog of War, his powerful, relevant look at former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. That film and Morris' two previous masterpieces, Mr. Death and Fast, Cheap & Out of Control have been available on DVD for some time. His first three films, Gates of Heaven, Vernon, Florida, and The Thin Blue Line, were recently made available either individually or in a 3-disc box set. All six of these films are unique, intriguing portals into Mr. Morris' strange universe, which is not so distant from our own. If it's dramatic situations, reality TV, or simply a great movie that you want, look no further than The Thin Blue Line. As one of the greatest documentaries of our time, it is all these things and so much more.Rating: A
Stunning depiction of a gross miscarriage of justice (by DeeNine-2)
This is an extraordinary documentary in which film maker Errol Morris shows how an innocent man was convicted of murdering a policeman while the real murderer was let off scot free by the incompetent criminal justice system of Dallas, Texas. The amazing thing is that Morris demonstrates this gross miscarriage of justice in an utterly convincing manner simply by interviewing the participants. True, he reenacts the crime scene and flashes headlines from the newspaper stories to guide us, but it is simply the spoken words of the real murderer, especially in the cold-blooded, explosive audio tape <more>
that ends the film, that demonstrate not only his guilt but his psychopathic personality. And it is the spoken words of the defense attorneys, the rather substantial Edith James and the withdrawing Dennis White, and the wrongfully convicted Randall Adams that demonstrate the corrupt and incompetent methods used by the Dallas Country justice system to bring about this false conviction. Particularly chilling were the words of Judge Don Metcalfe, waxing teary-eyed, as he recalls listening to the prosecutor's summation about how society is made safe by that "thin blue line" of cops who give their lives to protect us from criminals. The chilling part is that while he is indulging his emotions he is allowing the cop killer to go free and helping to convict an innocent man. Almost as chilling in its revelation of just how perverted and corrupt the system has become, was the report of how a paid psychologist, as a means of justifying the death penalty, "interviewed" innocent Randall Adams for fifteen minutes and found him to be a danger to society, a blood-thirsty killer who would kill again.This film will get your dander up. How the cops were so blind as to not see that 16-year-old David Harris was a dangerous, remorseless psychopath from the very beginning is beyond belief. He even took a delight in bragging about his crime. As Morris suggests, it was their desire to revenge the cop killing with the death penalty that blinded them to the obvious. They would rather fry an innocent man than convict the real murderer, who because of his age was not subject to the death penalty under Texas law. When an innocent man is wrongly convicted of a murder three things happen that are disastrous: One, an innocent man is in jail or even executed. Two, the real guilty party is free to kill again. And, three, the justice system is perverted. This last consequence is perhaps the worst. When people see their police, their courts, their judges condemning the innocent and letting the guilty walk free, they lose faith in the system and they begin to identify with those outside the system. They no longer trust the cops or the courts. The people become estranged from the system and the system becomes estranged from the people. This is the beginning of the breakdown of society. The Dallas cops and prosecutors and the stupid judge David Metcalfe , who should have seen through the travesty, are to be blamed for the fact that David Harris, after he testified for the prosecution and was set free, did indeed kill again, as well as commit a number of other crimes of violence.The beautiful thing about this film is, over and above the brilliance of its artistic construction, is that its message was so clear and so powerful that it led to the freeing of the innocent Randall Adams. Although the psychopathic David Harris, to my knowledge, was never tried for the crime he committed, he is in prison for other crimes and, it is hoped, will be there for the rest of his life. Errol Morris and the other people who made this fine film can pride in these facts and in knowing that they did a job that the Dallas criminal justice system was unable to do. Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!
A clear indication for just how corrupt the law really is (by Agent10)
Errol Morris does a magnificent job in what I believe is his best documentary. Wonderfully shot and conceptualized, this is more like the greatest Unsolved Mysteries episode ever. Even though the film was virtually all interviews, it really brings out the quirks and the trivial natural of eyewitness reports. Its also a moment frozen in time, a time when racism still shaped the judicial system and the good old boy system extended further than politics. The score by Phillip Glass was also amazing. There are so many little indicators of the individual's personalities within the film, <more>
sometimes it appears comical or scary. Quite an achievement for a film which is so confined and claustrophobic.
We watch a lot of American Justice and their ilk in this house. Every episode Bill Kurtis or whoever leads us through the case to his expected result. Then we saw this on IFC one evening. The Lack of narration, the compelling music, the repetitive recreations of the scene and most of all, the faces and voices: Adams' 'plain Jane' attorney, her colleague who handled Adams' appeal, the small town cop, the judge comparing his grade in state versus Federal Supreme Court...all of these people speaking out to us, building or tearing down a case that grows in our minds, especially <more>
when the real killer begins to talk. A powerful experience not to be missed.
And thus, Dallas County, Texas, in 1977, successfully prosecuted Randall Dale Adams, a lowly hitchhiker, for a crime Adams did not commit.Adams was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1976 murder of a Dallas cop. "The Thin Blue Line", by Errol Morris, is a documentary that recounts this infamous case, by way of interviews and reenactments. It's the story of a terrible injustice, one that almost cost an innocent man his life.What is so frightening is the fervor of Dallas officials to inflict the death penalty on someone ... anyone ... They weren't about to let the cop <more>
murder go unpunished. Adams was the most convenient target. Eventually, the truth would come out. But Adams would spend twelve years in prison, some of those years on death row. After his release, Adams never received any monetary compensation, or even an apology, from the State Of Texas, for that injustice. Interestingly, more than one Dallas County official associated with the Adams case was also associated with the aftermath of the JFK assassination, thirteen years earlier.Morris' documentary would have been easier to follow had it had subtitles, to indicate the name of the person being interviewed. Also, some of the film's material consisted of irrelevant flashback footage and repetitive reenactments. Further, the narrative presentation was at times confusing. Nevertheless, the main issue here is the powerful true-life story.If you can get around the technical weaknesses of this film, "The Thin Blue Line" is a gripping documentary about a real life case of American injustice, in a city that is notorious for its history of botched criminal investigations.
A film that can really, really make you angry (by zetes)
The Thin Blue line shows how wrong our legal system is here in the US. Trials are run not as a celebration of justice but as a purveyor of revenge. Prosecuting attorneys are not men who believe in doing what's right, but what will most successfully add to their reputation. A psychologist testifies against over 99% of those criminals he interviews so that they will get the death penalty. The police choose to believe a juvenile delinquent's testimony against a man who has never done anything majorly illegal in his life just because they cannot send a 16 year old to the chair, and they <more>
cannot fail to execute someone over the death of a police officer. Every single police officer and witness who had anything to do with the trial was discreditable, yet no discrediting evidence was ever allowed in the court. You may have guessed that this all takes place in Texas.Even with the power it carries, The Thin Blue Line has some structural problems. I wish that we had been given some more information on Randall Adams although maybe there just wasn't too much to say . And I wish that we would have been able to hear the "thin blue line" closing argument of the prosecuting attorney, a speech that made the judge's eyes water. If you like this film, search out Paradise Lost: The Child Murders of Robin Hood Hills, a documentary obviously inspired by this. That one is a little more convincing and powerful than The Thin Blue Line although this one apparently helped to get Adams off the hook; of course, with the amount of evidence that the film amassed, it is difficult to let the man rot without one more chance .
I first saw this film not long after its initial release some 20 years ago and images and scenes from it have stayed with me ever since, so that it was with considerable anticipation that I re-watched it again recently. Down the years I can still recall Randall Adams drawling in his unforgettable voice "The kid scares me", the ever-revolving red light on the cop-car and most of all Philip Glass' wonderful, hypnotic music. The depiction of the fateful night of the cold-blooded murder of the policeman is shown from, almost literally, every possible angle, conveyed in a highly <more>
stylised way with almost every speculated remembrance of the doubtful list of every dubious and are they ever dubious! witness played out on the screen, the effect, in so doing, to completely explode their fantasist recollections, as was no doubt the director's aim. The reconstructions are set alongside filmed interviews of most of the main protagonists with the main exception of the second cop in the car who witnessed the killing . As you watch these, the centrepiece clearly becomes the contrasting testimony of the almost-certain murderer David Harris with the wronged Randall Adams, the first coming across from the start as duplicitous and uncaring, the latter as bemused but reasoning. I was particularly taken with the erudition of Adams, who suppresses his inner rage with admirable restraint as he points the viewer time and again back to the evidence. As an indictment of the American criminal justice system, it hits home hard; it appears that investigation standards head for the hills especially when the law has a cop-killer to nail. Thankfully the miscarriage of justice was eventually resolved although it makes you grateful for the coincidence which led director Morris to change the subject course of his original project to instead highlight Adams' case culminating in his release soon after the film was first shown. The film however is more than a crusading documentary and there is much for students and admirers of the film-makers art to enjoy. Unforgettable, really, almost haunting, and proof if needed that truth really is stranger than fiction.