Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Thin Blue Line

Errol Morris, 1988, 103m

The title is a metaphor for the police force (based on the color of their uniforms) which is presumed to "separate society from anarchy". The stated motivation behind the documentary was to secure justice for one Adams, wrongly convicted for the murder of a police officer, and serving a life term. The film did succeed in this objective, since Adams was ultimately released. The film is a study of the legal machinery in the US which seems as flawed and corruptible as elsewhere.

The story is interesting and intricate but there seems no point getting into plot details here. What seems surprising is the lengths to which police would go to secure a conviction in a case of murder where the victim is a police officer. The actual guilty person (one Harris) is below sixteen and ineligible for the death sentence, which is what they want. Using the concocted testimony of Harris and three purchased eye-witnesses a verdict of guilty is secured for Adams in a trial by jury, which on appeal is commuted to a life term, for a technical reason.

Morris uses a mixture of interviews, footage and re-enactment to construct a multi-faceted montage of an intricate legal process, involving many people. Authenticity and truth are the dictums of Errol Morris. To reach conclusions or to pass judgement is not his way. Here we treated to a tour of the seamier workings of human nature and the haphazard lurching of the legal machinery. The only definite thing seems to be that it is difficult to be definite about anything.


Anonymous said...

Although it is less objective than Morris' other works(it is clear that Morris believed Adams was not guilty), "The Thin Blue Line" is a captivating work. It has memorable images like milkshake thrown away and, above all, it shows interesting people.

S. M. Rana said...


I understand that was his stated objective for making the film--to secure the release of Adams, whose innocence he was convinced about.