The Thin Blue Line (1988)

thin blue line poster 1988 documentary movie
8.5 Overall Score

Strong criminal investigation

Bland in appearance compared to modern documentaries

Movie Info

Movie Name:   The Thin Blue Line

Studio:   American Playhouse

Genre(s):   Documentary

Release Date(s):   August 25, 1988

MPAA Rating:   Not Rated

thin blue line documentary recreation shooting

A recreation of the crime

On November 28, 1976, Texas police officer Robert W. Wood was killed on duty after a traffic stop.  Only trying to warn the driver that their headlights were off, Wood was gunned down and his partner wasn’t able to clearly identify the gunman.  When reports came forward, police tracked the car and the death to David Ray Harris who quickly blamed a man named Randall Adams for the crime.  Convicted for murder and sentenced to death, Adams proclaims his innocence…and the truth could set him free.

Directed by Errol Morris, The Thin Blue Line is a critically acclaimed documentary.  The film won multiple awards but was ineligible for Best Documentary at the Academy Awards because the film was marketed as “nonfiction” instead of a documentary.  A remastered version of the documentary was released by Criterion (Criterion #753).

thin blue line documentary randall adams

Randall Adams

With the recent upswing of both violence against cops and cops against civilians, it is interesting to look back at a situation where essentially both got it wrong.  An officer just doing his job was savagely killed for no reason and a man was convicted of his murder because of poor detective work and preconceived notions.  The Thin Blue Line reminds you that there are two sides to a story.

Officers getting killed often boosts the urgency for a resolution (more so than a civilian).  The police in the movie wanted a killer and prosecutors made Randall Adams their scapegoat because he was the easy target.  With testimony from the actual killer and other false informants used against him, the police had their killer and the case was solved…but they didn’t apply the diligence to their investigation that they needed especially when dealing with life altering events (on both sides).

thin blue line documentary david ray harris

David Ray Harris

The forgotten side of the documentary is probably the family of Robert W. Woods who had to endure all of this.  Adams paid the price for something he didn’t do, but Woods family also had to endure years of trials, denials, accusations, and then a movie claiming that the man they believed responsible for Woods’ death wasn’t really the one who did it…that could be a hard pill to swallow.

The Thin Blue Line isn’t flashy at all.  Now, there are much more stylized documentaries and The Thin Blue Line feels rather mundane in appearance (it could just be a show on A&E).  Its subject however is strong and has impact and that can’t be said for many of the documentaries made.

After the release of the documentary, Randall Adams’ case was reviewed and Adams was released in 1989 (David Ray Harris was executed later for another murder).  Adams was critical of Errol Morris’ use of his story and later became an anti-death penalty activist.  He passed away in 2010 at 61 from a brain tumor (and never received compensation for the years he spent incarcerated).

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

Leave A Response