Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line constitutes a mesmerizing reconstruction and investigation of a senseless murder. It employs strikingly original formal devices to pull together diverse interviews, filmclips, photo collages and recreations of the crime from many points of view.
Case in question centers upon the 1976 murder of a Dallas policeman. Late one night, Officer Robert Wood and his partner pulled over a car that was traveling without its headlights on. When Wood approached the driver’s window, he was shot five times and killed.
Some time later, David Harris, 16, was arrested in Vidor, Texas, after having bragged to friends that he’d killed a Dallas cop. Harris later insisted his boasting was only meant to impress his buddies, and that the real murderer was a hitchhiker he’d picked up earlier in the day, one Randall Adams.
Despite Harris’ extensive criminal history and Adams’ unblemished past, the teenager got off scot-free, while the older man was convicted and sentenced to death (later committed to life imprisonment).
Morris first introduces the two men via freshly filmed, straightforward interviews, then stages the crime for the camera from a variety of angles and at an assortment of speeds.
Title refers to the police, said by the judge here to be the only thing that separates the public from the rule of anarchy.