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Ranked in Sight & Sound’s 2014 critics poll as the 5th best of all-time, The Thin Blue Line managed to save an innocent man from life imprisonment whilst also changing the face of documentary film-making. Director Errol Morris, lauded by Roger Ebert as “a magician, and as great a filmmaker as Hitchcock or Fellini”, drew on his experience as a private detective to unravel a complex murder case in the heart of North Texas.
The Thin Blue Line revolves around the alleged actions of Randall Dale Adams, a 28 year old man whose life was changed on a fateful Thanksgiving weekend in Dallas. The ‘official’ story asserted that Adams had been pulled over for a minor traffic infringement on the night of Saturday 27th November 1976. When the police officer reached the driver’s window, Adams opened fire with a pistol, killing the officer in cold-blood before fleeing the scene.
Morris lays out the investigation’s inconsistencies and courtroom’s contradictions with an immaculately clean style, highlighting the chilling nature of false murder accusation through the quiet, almost-sterile tone of his direction. Utilising extensive interviews and meticulous re-enactments (a technique pioneered by The Thin Blue Line and now a staple of investigative crime documentaries), we are methodically presented with the facts of the case as Morris emphasises the elastic and unreliable state of individual memory. He treads a careful line as he never explicitly argues Adams’ innocence, instead allowing the evidence and testimony to speak for itself.
Seamlessly weaving between blood-thirsty prosecutors, Texan KKK strongholds, pure-hearted public defenders and malicious doctors-for hire, Morris’ groundbreaking work showcases a riveting mix of personal and political intrigue. Underpinned by a haunting minimalist score from legendary composer Philip Glass, The Thin Blue Line is compelling, essential and important viewing, a true masterpiece of documentary cinema.
The Thin Blue Line is available to stream on Netflix in the UK & USA.