Review: The Thin Blue Line (1988)

Burger King that late at night is bound to cause problems!

Written By: Errol Morris
Directed By: Errol Morris

Though it is a documentary there is a great deal of subjectivity to The Thin Blue Line. While it is true that every documentary is subjective, most try to hide behind a veneer of objectivity. The Thin Blue Line offers no such illusion, it has a story to tell and it has a side in that story. The Thin Blue Line is seeking to expose the truth, but it is seeking to expose the truth as Errol Morris sees said truth.

In the past I have written how I am not a fan of when a movie takes sides, but I had the opposite reaction to The Thin Blue Line. I loved that the film was so upfront about its subjective nature. I was enamored with the films search for the truth though the eyes of its creator. Mr. Morris believes that Randall Adams is innocent and he feels the need to convey Mr. Adams’ story and his version of the truth at the same time. It helps Mr. Morris’ case that his version of the truth is clearly thee truth, some facts do not lie no matter how subjective the film may be. That does not, however, take away from the brilliance of Mr. Morris’ filmmaking for one second.

Be the facts as they may, what makes The Thin Blue Line such an interesting experience is the compelling filmmaking of Mr. Morris. The story itself is interesting, but the protagonist is low key to the point of damning passivity. This stops the story itself from being an attention grabbing chronicle of injustice. That leaves the burden on Mr. Morris, his pen, and his camera, to make the story more interesting than it is. And boy does he ever do that, and in spades.

Repetition is common theme throughout The Thin Blue Line. Any time that a reenacment is shown on screen it is repeated many times until it has a numbing effect. The harshness of the police officer getting shot fades away the more we are treated to his footsteps, a series of loud bangs, and his crumpled body twisting to the pavement. The events (along with a wonderful Philip Glass score) that damned Mr. Adams are repeated so much that our focus is taken away from the events and to the people recounting the events. I was able to leave the fact that a cop was killed behind and focus on the shakiness of the eye witness testimony. Instead of being about the crime, The Thin Blue Line becomes a film about those involved in the aftermath of the crime.

The interviews are where Mr. Morris shows the most restraint and perhaps the most skill. He does not interject himself vocally for there is no reason for such a showy action. He intercuts his repetition theme with interviews where the camera stays still and lets the person talking show their own corruption (or in the case of the few honest people in the movie, their own integrity). When he is talking to the Dallas County, Texas investigators or the judge he lets them talk long enough so that they naturally talk themselves into a hole they cannot dig themselves out of once the facts of the case are presented.

It was in the theme of repetition and the frankly straightforward nature of the interviews that let Mr. Morris took a low key story and made it richly compelling. Mr. Morris took a side, but he took a side beautifully and his version of the truth was presented with a lot of skill. It is true that The Thin Blue Line blurs the line between documentary and fiction. But, it does something better than being a true work of fiction or a true documentary. The Thin Blue Line is a truly great movie, and I’ll take a great movie any day of the week.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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3 responses to “Review: The Thin Blue Line (1988)

  1. Good review. I liked the interviewing sections the best, too. For me the most compelling part of the story is that in response to this documentary, and after still more dragging of feet by the Justice System, the man was finally released from prison.

  2. That is a very compelling aspect of the story, it’s one of the things that has me very interested in checking out the Paradise Lost trilogy about the Memphis Three.

  3. Pingback: Postulating & Pontificating: Streaming Wasteland! | Bill's Movie Emporium

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