(1988) dir. Errol Morris
I don’t know how I managed to have never seen this movie earlier in my life, but I’ve become quite a fan of Errol Morris since and had been meaning to get around to seeing it. The film that really cinched Morris for me was the far more fascinating film Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (1999), which I consider one of the most interesting documentaries that I have ever seen and recommend heartily.
The Thin Blue Line is an odd document now. The film was made by Morris in the 1980’s in response to his investigation into the case of a wrongly accused man, Randall Adams, who was sitting on death row in Texas. Compellingly told, unfolding with first-person interviews with most of the key players in the drama, the film does attack the D.A. who drove home the conviction despite a good deal of critical evidence that would lead to the real killer, the much younger David Harris.
The film touches on many points, but no overall issue is hammered home more than the fact that Adams is an innocent man, stated very explicitly by Harris himself in a final taped interview that closes the film.
The film was key to a re-opening of the case which eventually exonerated Adams, who now works as an anti-death penalty advocate. And its sad commentary on Harris, who was a spiraling criminal from his teens, eventually killed again, went to death row for that murder, and was ultimately executed. There is a lot of sadness throughout this story of lives randomly destroyed, the blindness of the justice system, and the failure of the law.
It’s interesting because I watch a lot of detective documentary-style television programs, which really only came into popularity at a time after this film was made. You don’t see this film now as an advocacy. The issue has been resolved. It really requires some epilogues. Still, it’s fascinating.