The Thin Blue Line

Errol Morris’s third documentary feature (after Gates of Heaven and Vernon, Florida) is an absorbing but problematic 1988 reconstruction of and investigation into the 1976 murder of a Dallas policeman. As an investigative detective-journalist who spent many years on this case, Morris uncovered a disturbing miscarriage of justice in the conviction of Randall Adamswho came very close to being executed. Morris goes so far in his talking-head interview technique that he eventually goads David Harris, Adams’s companion the night of the murder, into something very close to a confession. But Morris’s highly selective approach also leaves a good many questions hanging. The issue of motive is virtually untouched, and the quasi-abstract re-creations of the crime, accompanied by what is probably the first effective film score ever composed by Philip Glass, give rise to a lot of metaphysical speculations that, provocative as they are, only obfuscate the issues. The results, while compelling, provide an object lesson in the dangers of being influenced by Werner Herzog; the larger considerations and film noir overtones detract too much from the facts of the case, and what emerges are two effective half-films, each partially at odds with the other. (JR)

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