film 5 of 7

The Thin Blue Line

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 10, 2015

By now the vaunted reflexive stuff with which Errol Morris stuffed this movie looks kind of precious, self-conscious, self-important. Granted, it does illustrate one of the film’s main points, the Citizen Kane-like notion that multiple versions of the events in our lives make ultimate truth, even reasonable understanding, inaccessible. These most desirable, these deeply necessary things, may not even exist.

The vaunted reflexive stuff also looks like a calling card, or a smart young filmmaker’s interposing of his irrelevant self onto the social reality that he’s allegedly serving. And sometimes I can’t decide whether Philip Glass is fabulous or just an unclothed Emperor.

This viewing appears to have made me grumpy.

Still, this is some story! Its slow unfolding is most effective, and very impressive. It demonstrates that there’s much more than just formalism or self-promotion going on. The social and moral prospects here are pretty dire. What have we got, in this world of ours? Well, there are murderous sociopaths like David Harris. There are towns full of moron bigots that protect him. There are any number of strong arm, bottom-covering cops, a judicial system that starts to look kind of sociopathic in its own right, insect multitudes of Boston Blackie trash, people who make movies about cheerleaders… Out of this hellish concatenation the stout lady lawyer and the retiring defense counsel emerge as quietly, positively heroic. Of course they are also, ultimately ineffectual.

Or not. As is well known, The Thin Blue Line led to Randall Adams’ exoneration and release. Hitchock’s The Wrong Man becomes Bresson’s A Man Escaped! And then Adams sued Morris. There’s hope here, after a fashion. But in the end, when you consider the film and its contexts, the prospect is still pretty Exorcist-III chilly.