, 103 min, 1988
Director: Errol Morris
Writer: Errol Morris
Stars: Randall Adams, David Harris, Gus Rose
Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line is a powerful, shattering and thought-provoking documentary about a miscarriage of justice and the ever-shifting kaleidoscope through which facts can be manipulated.
In 1976, a drifter named Randall Adams was picked up hitchhiking by a young runaway named David Harris. At some point during the night, a Dallas police officer and his female partner pulled the duo over, and somebody shot the officer. Soon, Adams was convicted – despite the rabid initial claims by Harris that he himself was guilty, as well as the fact that Adams had an alibi of sorts.
Errol Morris (Gates of Heaven), the great documentarian, spent 2 1/2 years attempting to track down the various participants in Adams’ case and convince them to appear in this film. Once a private detective, Morris employs his Interrotron – one camera directly on the subject, remote controlled, and another on the interviewer, each with a monitor so they can see what the other one looks like during the intense interview process – in order to observe carefully his many subjects, probing to discover the truth. He also uses carefully produced and often repetitive recreations of the shooting, the aftermath and Adams’ interrogation in order to paint a picture of what could’ve happened.
The results are a fascinating and riveting look at the justice system and how easy it is for innocent people to be convicted. Adams was a drifter with no record. Harris was a sociopath who claimed he did it but back-peddled a bit when he thought he might be charged. However, late in the film, astonishingly, there is a frank audio interview between Morris and Harris where Harris all-but-confesses that he may have been guilty after all.
At the film’s end, Harris sits on Death Row for another crime, and Adams is still in prison. Morris remains perhaps the greatest documentarian working today.