The Movie That Set an Innocent Man Free
By Cedric Severino

At the heart of The Thin Blue Line, is the 1976 murder of a Dallas police officer. What’s amazing about this documentary is its ability to fuse fictional elements into the reconstruction of this event.

We follow the story of Randall Adams, a young drifter who was charged with the murder, while his companion, David Harris, serves as the main witness against him. Director Errol Morris uses a number of original techniques to expose the falsehoods in Harris and the State’s story, interviewing witnesses and revealing the errors in their judgment. Slowly it becomes clear that Harris is the real culprit.
Morris’s interviews capture the oddness of the witnesses and the figures involved in the prosecution. His findings encourage us to question perception, authority and justice.
It is the form of this questioning that deserves the most attention. Instead of simply pointing out facts that would shed doubt on the prosecution’s story, Morris develops a dramatic and suspenseful narrative to reel us in.
Watching The Thin Blue Line is an absorbing experience. It ultimately leads to the same kind of questioning of objectivity and "truth" as Kurosawa’s Rashomon.
This questioning has basis in the strange nature of reality and demonstrates the way in which fiction can be formed and believed as total truth to serve social and individual needs.
Phillip Glass’s soundtrack is a striking artistic touch that brings tension and suspense to the unfolding of the events, and it is the driving force behind a rhythmic use of imagery and symbolism.
The film has many stylish moments that lend extra potency to the reality of the events being narrated. One memorable scene shows a milkshake, flung by the officer’s partner in a reenactment of the shooting, falling and tumbling in slow motion. But for the most part, Morris does not need the help of his imagination to keep us interested. The story stands on its own.
The Thin Blue Line was the primary cause of Adams’s retrial and release — even though he expressed a lack of gratitude by suing Morris for stealing his story.
September 27
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