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The Thin Blue Line (1988)

Not Rated | | Documentary, Crime, Drama | 25 August 1988 (USA)
A film that successfully argued that a man was wrongly convicted for murder by a corrupt justice system in Dallas County, Texas.

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Writer:

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12 wins & 5 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Randall Adams ...
Himself
David Harris ...
Himself
Gus Rose ...
Himself (Homicide Detective in Dallas)
Jackie Johnson ...
Herself (Homicide Detective in Dallas)
Marshall Touchton ...
Himself (Homicide Detective in Dallas)
Dale Holt ...
Himself (Internal Affairs Investigator in Dallas)
Sam Kittrell ...
Himself (Police Detective in Vidor)
Hootie Nelson ...
Himself (Friend of David Harris in Vidor)
Dennis Johnson ...
Himself (Friend of David Harris in Vidor)
Floyd Jackson ...
Himself (Friend of David Harris in Vidor)
Edith James ...
Herself (Defense Attorney)
Dennis White ...
Himself (Defense Attorney)
Don Metcalfe ...
Himself (The Judge)
Emily Miller ...
Herself (Surprise Eyewitness)
R.L. Miller ...
Himself (Surprise Eyewitness)
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Storyline

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 ... Written by Tad Dibbern <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

A softcore movie, Dr. Death, a chocolate milkshake, a nosey blonde and "The Carol Burnett Show." Solving this mystery is going to be murder.


Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

25 August 1988 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

På en skör tråd  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office

Gross:

$1,209,846 (USA)
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Color:

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

In 2008, "Variety" credited the film as "the most political work of cinema in the last 20 years". See more »

Quotes

Sam Kittrell: David thought that the one that was really at fault that night was the guy that got killed. He said, "That guy's crazy. He came after me with a gun." I told him, "David, you'd broken into his house, you abducted his girlfriend, what was he supposed to do?" He said, "Man shouldn't come out with a gun. That dude's crazy. He should have been killed."
See more »

Crazy Credits

Drawings from the Bender Visual Motor Gestalt Test © 1946, American Orthopsychiatric Association Inc. and Lauretta Bender, M.D. See more »

Connections

Featured in The 50 Greatest Documentaries (2005) See more »

Soundtracks

Metamorphosis
Written by Philip Glass
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User Reviews

A simple and matter-of-fact condemnation of a miscarriage of justice
15 October 2008 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Randall Adams was a drifter who was picked up by runaway teenager David Harris when he ran out of petrol. The two men hang out for a while, drank some beer, went to the movies, smoked some weed. At this point Adams says he went his own way to his motel with his brother, watched TV and went to sleep. Alternatively, Harris says the two men stayed together were stopped by the police when Adams took out a gun and opened fire on a police officer before driving off. This film follows the court case which charged Adams for the murder of a police officer, with the underage Harris (who was ineligible for the death penalty) as one of the main witnesses against him.

I do enjoy a Perry Mason film because, after a solid hour of red herrings and question-marks, it always come down to the big reveal with Mason demanding "isn't it true? ISN'T IT?" as everyone gasps, the guilty confesses on the stand and justice is done. Sadly this is not a documentary but a basic TVM series and what the Thin Blue Line does so effectively is to get passed all our ideas of how justice works from films and presents a near-unquestionable miscarriage of justice. At no point does the "guilty" person get totally exposed (although the suggestion is very clearly there as to who it was) but instead Morris goes after the idea of reasonable doubt (which, if there is any, then the charged should not have been convicted). Starting at the very start of the fateful evening, Morris uses interviews and some reconstructions to tell the story of what happened from various points of view – initially with a focus very much on the events as the courts saw it.

From here he then uses these same contributions to inject a huge amount of doubt into the vast majority of the case for the prosecution. If you want to find it, there are things in here that could be taken as anti-death penalty but for me the film is pro-justice as opposed to anti-anything as it is essentially reinforcing the importance of reasonable doubt. By virtue of doing this, everyone involved looks bad and Morris wisely doesn't need to pick on anybody in particular directly. It is fascinating as a film but I can understand the occasional claim of it being "dull" – I cannot agree with it but I can understand because, in a world where excess is the norm (style, action, violence, opinion) anything that is actually restrained and even handed could be taken as "dull".

This modern moaning aside though, The Thin Blue Line is a well made film that simply and matter-of-factly condemns the justice system as it applied to Randall Adams. One of Morris' best films and worth seeking out.


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