Tuesday, April 19, 2011

779. The Thin Blue Line (1988)

Running Time: 103 minutes
Directed By: Errol Morris
Written By: Errol Morris
Main Cast: Randall Adams, David Harris, Gus Rose, Jackie Johnson, Marshall Touchton


I was browsing through my Netflix instant queue last night and "The Thin Blue Line" caught my eye, so I said "What the hell" and gave it a go. I was left with many thoughts following the film, the most trivial one being, why don't I watch more documentaries?

The documentary was directed by Errol Morris and delves into a crime that took place on the night of November 28, 1976. The murder involved the fatal shooting of police officer Robert W. Wood and the resulting arrest of Randall Adams. The story (according to Adams) is that he ran out of gas while driving through Dallas and while walking to a gas station was picked up by David Harris. The two struck up a conversation and wound up getting a few beers and going to the movies. Later that night, Harris dropped Adams off at his hotel, Adams caught the end of "The Carol Burnett Show" and went to sleep. Adams claims that he knew nothing about a shooting and stuck with the story even when he was arrested and threatened by Detective Gus Rose. The next day, eyewitnesses reported that David Harris visited them and bragged about killing Robert Wood and was later picked up by police. Harris told the police that he was just bragging and that he really didn't do it, but fingered Adams as the shooter. The film makes a point of stressing the argument that Adams was arrested because he was an adult and therefore could be put to death, whereas the 16 year old Harris could not.

Note: While the film is a documentary, I'm still going to put "spoiler alert" in case you want to watch it, not knowing the fate of Randall Adams and David Harris.


I guess, in short, the film was fantastic. I knew before I even watched it that it would be something that would appeal to me. I've always had an interest in true crime stories and what drove men to commit the heinous crimes they did. The film uses reenactments to show what may have happened on the night of November 28, 1976. The reenactments kept coming, showing every possible outcome and every witness story. It really hammers home the ambiguity of that night and reminds us that no one, except the real killer, will ever know what happened on that fateful night, as we never see what is labeled a faithful reenactment, only what is thought to have happened.

If you are someone who has faith in the justice system of the United States, then you may want to steer clear of "The Thin Blue Line" unless you want that faith tarnished. The film will, without a doubt, make you question the motives of the detectives, judges and lawmen who make up our system. As stated above, the film makes a pretty compelling argument that Adams was sent to trial because he was old enough to be electrocuted, if convicted. It seems as though that the Dallas County lawmen wanted someone to die for the death of one of their Officers and that no matter how much incriminating evidence pointed to David Harris, they were going to convict someone that they could put to death. If you think about it rationally, you can see their motives - they wanted to show the public that they were able bodied and they wanted some vindication for their fallen Officer. However, it still doesn't make it right and the fact that an innocent man, who was more than likely sleeping when Robert Wood was gunned down, spent 12 1/2 years in prison.

In fact, it's scary. It reminds you how true that "wrong place at the wrong time" adage is and how if Randall Adams car had not run out of gas, he may have been able to salvage 12 1/2 years of his life. You really have to feel sorry for a guy who spent that much time behind bars, knowing full well the entire time that he was innocent. I guess he should count his lucky stars that he didn't get put to death. The film states that he was extremely close to death, before the Supreme Court changed the decision to a life sentence.

Anyway, the film played a huge part in freeing Randall Adams and David Harris was later put away for another crime. At the end of the film, Errol Morris basically, in not so many words, coaxes a confession out of Harris for the killing of Robert Wood. Great film, great score and even a little scary.

RATING: 10/10 The film is great and makes me want to check out more of Errol Morris' stuff. I wonder how many more innocent men are sitting in prison and how many thousands of stories, just like Randall Adams', could be made into a documentary.


April 19, 2011 6:30pm

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