THE THIN BLUE LINE
Review by Gordon Justesen
Audio: DTS HD 2.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Features: See Review
Length: 102 Minutes
Release Date: March 24, 2015
“If there was ever a hell on earth, it's Dallas County.”
The power of documentary filmmaking is illustrated fluently in Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line. Few films have been able to simultaneously examine a past event and change it’s overall outcome. This film helped pave the way for future films such as the Paradise Lost documentaries, which delivered a similar effect on the case it examined.
This landmark documentary came as a result of Morris’ dabbling in private investigation work. When all set to interview prosecution psychiatrist Dr. James Grigson, also known as “Dr. Death”. As he was examining case files in preparation for this interview, Morris found himself becoming increasingly fascinated with a certain murder case involving the shooting of a Dallas police officer.
This particular murder took place in 1976. It was the shooting death of a Dallas cop named Robert Wood. It landed a man named Randall Adams on death row, and the investigation conducted by Morris would result in a film that would help this same man get exonerated the year following the film’s release.
The film is a seamless mix of testimonial interviews and superbly effective re-enactment footage. This lends terrifically the many perspectives, and also makes the viewer to re-think his or her beliefs as to what really happened that fateful night. But for myself, as well as Morris and I’m sure the majority of people who saw the film, my mind was made up as to who the culprit behind the shooting was upon my first glance of one David Harris.
Harris, who while being interviewed for this doc was already on death row for a subsequent murder, gave Adams a ride in his car just hours before the shooting of Officer Wood. Between Harris’ unsettling demeanor on camera, coupled with the fact that he pretty much bragged to his friends about committing the very murder that Adams was being punished for, it’s all too easy to see how guilty he was. Listening to this guy just talk, you can easily understand why Morris believed the wrong man had been convicted upon his initial interview with Harris.
But in the end, art helped win the battle as Randall Adams was set free the very next year as a result of Errol Morris’ three year investigation. As mentioned earlier, later documentaries such as Paradise Lost were also able to help prove the innocence of the wrongly convicted. The very thought of a film being able to save a life in the way The Thin Blue Line has is an achievement on both a cinematic and humanitarian level.
Though this is my first time seeing this film, I no doubt waited till the right time to experience it. The Blu-ray presentation from Criterion is tremendously absorbing and riveting. The level of grain is just right and the re-mastered picture is one of rich detail that helps engulf the viewer in the investigative proceedings. And color is displayed spectacularly, even when just showcasing the orange prison jump suit during an interview segment. The repeated image of a police siren is also strikingly effective!
Given that this is a nearly thirty year old documentary, I was not expecting Criterion to present it by way of a DTS sound mix, but life is full of surprises. What this benefits tremendously is the unique music score from Philip Glass, which is heard quite frequently for a documentary. It sounds astonishing, and the spoken words are heard wonderfully as well. It might just add up to the best sounding documentary to grace the Blu-ray format yet!
There are essentially three supplements on this Criterion Blu-ray, but they are all of top level quality. The first is a lengthy and most informative interview with Morris, the second is an interview piece with fellow documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer. The third, and probably my favorite of the bunch, is a 1989 segment from The Today Show with Randall Harris being interviewed following his exoneration.
Every genre has its landmark film, and The Thin Blue Line is just that as far as documentaries are concerned. This is a profound mix of art and journalism, and the effect it had on the very case it was examining speaks for itself. If you cherish documentaries in the slightest, you owe it to yourself to check out this terrific Blu-ray release from Criterion!