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The Thin Blue Line
The Thin Blue Line
Actors: Randall Adams, David Harris, Gus Rose, Jackie Johnson, Marshall Touchton
Director: Errol Morris
Genres: Documentary, Mystery & Suspense
NR     2005     1hr 43min

Academy AwardÂ(r)-winner* Errol Morris broke new ground with the "riveting" (LA Weekly) film that dramatically reenacts the crime scene and investigation of a police officer's murder in Dallas. So powerful and convincing t...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Randall Adams, David Harris, Gus Rose, Jackie Johnson, Marshall Touchton
Director: Errol Morris
Creators: Robert Chappell, Errol Morris, Brad Fuller, David Hohmann, Gary McDonald, Lindsay Law, Mark Lipson
Genres: Documentary, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Documentary, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: MGM (Video & DVD)
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Closed-captioned,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 07/26/2005
Original Release Date: 08/25/1988
Theatrical Release Date: 08/25/1988
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 1hr 43min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 13
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French

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Movie Reviews

Stunning depiction of a gross miscarriage of justice
Dennis Littrell | SoCal | 08/17/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

"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 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."
Haunting, Facinating, and True!
Robert North | Midwest | 04/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"You can probably think of a handful of movies that seemed to affect your consciousness. Like the way some people say Catcher in the Rye changed their lives. But whether they actually changed you in a real, permanent way remains to be seen.

The Thin Blue Line is a different matter. This movie fundamentally affected at least one person's life in an irreversible way. Without giving away the plot, Randall Dale Adams will certainly never be the same.

The movie deals with the killing of a Texas Trooper and whether or not Texas justice got it right. Morris reveals the facts of the case using strange and haunting reenactments to cover multiple stories and exploring what people said vs. what the physical evidence suggested. He does not push a viewpoint but carefully crafts it, allowing you to accept or reject the various positions. Soon, you are drawn into the central issue of guilt or innocence and the many areas of gray in between.

It's a documentary that plays like a murder mystery, but it is frighteningly true. It's burned as much into my mind because of the number of high-profile cases in Texas where people were either in prison on death row despite being innocent; CBS news magazine 60 Minutes profiles many of them.

But you do not have to have an attitude toward the death penalty to be drawn to The Thin Blue Line. It is entertaining in and of itself. Errol Morris fans will enjoy experiencing one of his earlier works. It also features what I think is one of the better Philip Glass scores.

If you're looking for violence, sex, car chases, or explosions - stay away, you'll hate this. But if you can handle a movie that is more seductive than explosive, this is for you. The final scene -- where a handheld tape recorder sits on a table and plays part of an interview - will chill you to the bone. It makes me shiver even now, and I'm working from memory, not having seen this movie for 15 years or so.

I've been waiting for this to come out; I even sent e-mail to Morris' website to find out when it would be released. This is a special one.
One of the damnedest documentaries I have ever seen.
Christine E. Haftl | Norwood, PA United States | 03/26/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I am a movie buff from Widener University, who bought this documentary on VHS as an afterthought while buying two other critically acclaimed docs, Streetwise and Gates of Heaven (both given 4 stars by Roger Ebert, who's like a second father to me). Although some people might not like the fact that this VHS version was pan-and-scan, the visual impact of the filmed interviews as well as the soundtrack still shines through. Anyone who wonders why so many people oppose the death penalty should see this film. People who have served jury duty (or are considering it) will also benefit. The Thin Blue Line not only shows how justice can miscarry all too easily, it makes its viewers get to know the interviewees all too well. Errol Morris's reconstructions of the different versions of Officer Wood's murder show up the inconsistencies of the witnesses' testimony so strongly that the real murderer, David Harris (who was only sixteen when he shot Wood)confessed to the crime. Of course by then Harris had nothing further to lose; he was already on Death Row for a subsequent murder. I would be surprised if Roger Ebert didn't raise his rating for this doc from 3 1/2 stars to four and include it in his list of "The Great Movies.""
Reticuli | Las Vegas | 05/09/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Going into this film, I had no prior knowledge as to the most recent developments. I went into it expecting a manipulative, anti-cop documentary utilizing fancy storytelling and cinematography. The first half seemed to prove me right. Then we got to the three supposed witnesses. The bleached-blonde woman had mannerisms and expressions to the face that were undoubtedly that of a psychologically abnormal person. I've dealt with several individuals exactly like her and immediately knew she could not be trusted. Then we find out the circumstances surrounding her "testimony", which totally verified this. The African American man, who was in the other car, kept covering his face, while his eyes watered and he looked frightened. Any polygraph expert on the planet would have seen through this behavior even without his equipment. These two also had the telling habit of saying "I like helping the police; I have extra-ordinary memory." If this wasn't enough already, "Doctor Death" gives the accused an under 20 minute pseudoscientific personality evaluation, which is used to conclude he'd kill again. At the same time that was occurring, the very person who originally pointed the finger at him is out conducting armed robbery, attempted rape, and finally homicide, which hilariously he blames on the dead man for defending himself -- a common response from apathetic criminal minds. Morris caps all this off with the perfect ending: ... The fact that this director could so easily fool me early on, then gently change my mind shows just how talented he is. The film stands as damning evidence against Texas and southern "justice"."