Thin Blue Line,
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Date: July 26, 2005
Review posted: July 27, 2005
On a cold
night in November 1976, when drifter Randall Dale Adams was picked up
by teenage runaway David Harris, his fate was sealed. Later that
night, a police officer was shot in cold blood. And though all the
facts point to Harris, a sociopath with a lengthy rap sheet, Adams was
convicted of capitol murder. Did Adams pull the trigger? If not, can
Errol Morris unlock the secrets of this baffling case?
Errol Morris took a few years off from filmmaking. He was broke and
needed a job. Of all things, he became a private detective. What
better experience to bring to this, his third film, the story of a man
wrongly convicted of capitol murder and sitting on death row in Texas,
where the furnaces are always burning. There are so many details to
this case that it would be easy to confuse them, but at the heart of
it, Randall Dale Adams never should have been in prison in the first
place. Morris hit his stride with this film, combining penetrating
interviews, cinematic reenactments, and the kind of fetishistic close
ups for which his films would come to be known. With The Thin Blue
Line, Morris acts not only as detective but also as counselor,
pleading the case for Adams that no one else was able to.
the same nonjudgmental style that had been present before, and he
never editorializes. He never has to. The facts and the people
involved speak for themselves. The Dallas Police Department detective
talks about how Adams never showed any signs of remorse, that he
“overacted his innocence.” Of course, it never occurs to them that it
might be because Adams was innocent. The assumption is that he is
such a stone killer that something like remorse would never occur to
him. Miles away, in a small town outside of Dallas, young David
Harris, known in the area as a delinquent with a rap sheet, is taken
in for stealing a car, the very car in which the crime was committed.
Despite the fact that Harris handed over the murder weapon, and
despite the fact that he had bragged to friends about shooting a cop,
Randall Adams went on trial for murder and was soon convicted.
does here is quite remarkable. He lets the police and the so-called
eyewitnesses speak for themselves (and what they have to say is
stunning in how unreliable it is), and he also shows us how easy it is
to get the facts wrong, how people do not always see what they think
they see. It does not take long before we start to wonder how this
case was not laughed out of the courtroom.
Of course, it
was not, and Randall Adams was sentenced to death for the murder of
Officer Wood. It is Adams’ story that is at the heart of the film.
His experience with Texas justice is not one any of us would want to
repeat, and the film does not paint the most flattering picture of
that state. In a country were one is supposedly innocent until proven
guilty, Randall Adams was doomed by the fact that he could never prove
his innocence. “Why did I get picked up by him [Harris], why did the
car break down where it did,” Adams muses, as though he has wondered
this over and over, every day since, “I don’t know.” Adams was a
classic victim of circumstance; the kind of character Hitchcock made
is what is so compelling about this film, and Morris renders it
expertly, exposing the facts as no one ever did while the case was
being tried. In the end, David Harris, in prison for another crime,
confesses to the murder. He pinned it on Adams because he just
happened to be there. The confession of Harris is mere gravy by that
point, as the facts alone are enough to prove that Adams did not
commit the crime.
Blue Line shines a light
a corner of the criminal justice system that few ever get to see and
few would ever want to. What the film also did was save a man’s life,
something few other films can lay claim to. This is also the film
with which Morris really established himself and his style; it is the
first time we get a clear hint of what is to come.
Blue Line is presented
in the original 1.85:1 shooting ratio, and the transfer is pristine.
The color levels are expertly rendered both in the interviews and the
cinematic sequences. The picture is sharp and free of flaws.
This DVD is
presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. Like his other films, much
of the soundtrack here is comprised of dialogue. There is little that
would demand a high tech sound system. The presentation is crisp, and
all channels come through without distortion.
Personality – "First
Person" TV Episode: An
episode of the series Morris created (and which will be released on
the same day as this DVD) that focuses on one Michael Stone, a
forensic psychiatrist and “expert on evil.” Stone has come up with a
22 point “scale of evil” but concedes that no matter how bad an
example one comes up with, there is always a worse example. Says
Stone: “There seems to be no end to the possibility of human
depravity.” Stone seems to say that “evil” is relative, that there is
much gray area, and he seeks to define the psychopathic personality.
This is a fascinating piece on an interesting person, delivered as
only Morris can. (27:44)
episode is incredible, but it would be nice to have a word from the
director on the film itself, a commentary, perhaps, or a word on what
has happened to Adams since his release.
is one of the best
documentaries ever made, and certainly one of the most important.
Many films have shed light on the darker corners of the world, but
very few have actually saved a person’s life, and this one did. The
bonus material we have here is fascinating, but something specific to
the film would have made it that much better. This one is not to be
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