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The Thin Blue Line

By Robert Burns Neveldine

This landmark award-winning documentary, which revolutionized the form and helped acquit an innocent man of murder, came about almost by accident. Errol Morris had already directed such offbeat documentaries as Gates of Heaven (concerning pet cemeteries; a favorite of Roger Ebert's) and Vernon, Florida, which touchingly portrays the small town's eccentric inhabitants. He'd intended to travel to Texas to make a film about the criminal-psychiatry expert James Grigson, or "Dr. Death" as he came to be known for his frequent testimony against defendants, who were often then sent to death row. When Morris discovered that the doctor was involved in the trial of Randall Dale Adams, a man who, it seemed, had been falsely accused of the highway murder of a police officer, he decided that Adams's story was the real one to tell. Morris's innovative use of repeated dramatization, multiple points of view, talking-head and phone interviews, and symbolism--in concert with Philip Glass's haunting music--establishes that a combination of communitarian zeal and overly eager testimony persuaded the jury to find Adams, a "drifter" from the Midwest, guilty of the crime, instead of his underage (and, for the death penalty, ineligible) acquaintance, David Harris, who had a criminal record. The "thin blue line" of police officers separating the public from chaos--as the judge, quoting the D.A. in the case, has it--destabilizes in Morris's world and puts people at risk of injustice as often as it protects them. After serving time for a sentence commuted to life imprisonment, Adams was freed, making Errol Morris his most talented advocate.

 

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FILM FACTS

Buy this VHS movie from Amazon.com! (Click here!)DVD unavailableBuy this soundtrack from Amazon.com! (Click here!)Rated RNot on an American Film Institute 100 list

Director: Errol Morris

Stars: Randall Adams, David Harris, Gus Rose, Jackie Johnson, Don Metcalfe

Released: August 25, 1988

Availability: VHS CD


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