Between this film, and Into the Abyss, I'm pretty sure if you want to make a great crime documentary, Texas is the place to be. When a police officer in Dallas is shot after stopping a car with it's headlights off, Randall Dale Adams, a drifter, is convicted of the murder. However, from the very start, Adams maintained his innocence, claiming 16 year old David Harris, who he had hitchhiked with earlier, was the murderer. Director Errol Morris uses a combination of interviews and recreated scenes to tell the story from all sides in order to prove Adams' innocence. Morris' interviews are great. Unlike Herzog, Morris is an invisible presence, allowing for the colorful cast of characters to tell the story, while still cutting the footage to weave a complex tale. Whether it be the flashy DA, the uptight judge, or the cruel interrogators, it was evident from the start that they wanted Adams convicted as fast they could, using flamboyant and untrustworthy witnesses to get their conviction. They even got a psychologist known for condemning every one of his patients as insane, in order to justify a death sentence. Interviews from Adams' attorneys and David Harris definitely show that the legal system was completely incompetent in the case. While Morris is fair in his silent analysis, it is obvious that he sides with Adams and The Thin Blue Line is just as much a critique of the justice system as it is a film about Adams' innocence.
When I first read that some of the crime scenes were "recreated", I was skeptical that they would be more effective than simply showing pictures of evidence, or just describing them without footage. However, the recreated scenes were some of my favorite aspects of the film. Unlike hokey crime shows on TV, Morris' use of the camera for these scenes is masterful, grabbing every detail, replaying through every variation of "evidence", and perfectly showing on screen what an interviewee is describing. Whether it be a gun, a milkshake, or a tape recorder, the photography of this film is not only amazing for a crime documentary, but for film in general.
By the time I got to the end of the film, I was still not sure what Morris was trying to say, since there was obviously more than just "Adams is innocent". Obviously the film is a critique of the effectiveness of the legal system and of Texas' execution happy attitude, but one quote stuck out for me. Harris describes Lady Justice as wearing blindfolds because "we don't know what happens behind closed doors"(or something like that). To me, this is what summarizes The Thin Blue Line. Justice may be blind, but not because she is fair. Overall, The Thin Blue Line is not only an amazing documentary, but an amazing movie, and I hope anyone that reads this review watches it.