The Thin Blue Line Screen 9 articles

The Thin Blue Line

1988

The Thin Blue Line Poster
  • The issue of motive is virtually untouched by the film; and Morris's quasi-abstract re-creations of the crime, accompanied by what is probably the first effective film score ever composed by Philip Glass, create a lot of metaphysical speculations that are provocative in themselves but further obfuscate many of the issues. The results are compelling, but a good object lesson in the dangers of being influenced by Werner Herzog.

  • ++

    The Village Voice: J. Hoberman
    August 30, 1988 | The Village Voice Film Guide (pp. 263-265)

    This brilliantly stylized documentary... is as stringently fatalist as Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour, as bizarrely artistic as the dream sequences of Murder, My Sweet, as convoluted as Out of the Past, as tense as the original D.O. A., and as sui generis as Morris's earlier films... The Thin Blue Line can be construed as an attempt to create linguistic and visual models for some unknowable reality, to find human equivalents for those majestically indifferent laws that govern the universe.

  • The legal figures and witnesses Morris interviews are transparently weird, shifty, obsessive and unreliable. Indeed, the movie - immaculately structured, beautifully shot, sensitively scored by Philip Glass - is a poignant and hilarious essay on oddball America. Morris' skill in suggesting that Adams' original trial involved at best a miscarriage of justice, at worst corruption, ensures that the audience becomes a surrogate jury.

  • What [Morris] does with that stereotypical doc format is so vastly different than what others manage. His talking heads are composed with care, as in the one of a cop framed before a map of Dallas, red street lines matching up with eerie coincidence to the tilt of his head as they encase him. The editing of his reenactments turns TV sensationalism into an actual cinematic sensation.

  • The Thin Blue Line remains a landmark in Morris's oeuvre because it revealed and corrected a flawed judicial process—a phenomenon that Morris says could not have happened if the film were released today, as not only are Supreme Court death-penalty cases notoriously more difficult to appeal, media saturation wouldn't have allowed Adams's story to remain quiet for so long. Though that may be true, it doesn't quell the significance of cinema as a catalyst for change...

  • The Jinx uses its reenacted sequences as supplements to talking-head interviews in order to assist the storytelling; it's meant to be a swift, fluid motion in the name of coherence, unraveling the complexities of a decades-long mystery. The Thin Blue Line makes no such claim for clarity because it stages reenactments to fragment and undermine the conflicting testimonies given by the film's various eyewitnesses and investigators.

  • Morris, like Jarecki, managed to record a near-confession (in this case, from the person who in all likelihood really committed the murder), which led to Adams being freed from prison a year after the film’s release. The effect that The Thin Blue Line would have on the doc world was almost as liberating. If you want to know how creative non-fiction exploded, this is where to start.

  • For those viewing this canonical film today, the challenge is to recognize the many levels on which it was a radically disruptive force that defied numerous assumptions about documentary as a mode of expression and ultimately reconfigured our understanding of what constitutes nonfiction audiovisual practices.

  • Here, Morris proves himself to be a careful, patient storyteller. He was never a lawyer, but he thinks like one. He lays out the facts of Adams’ case and allows Harris to figuratively hang himself. He also presents Adams as a likable character—Adams comes off as a film noir hero, in fact. If Morris flirts with elements of fiction here, he does so with great care.

More Links