The Thin Blue Line

500 Days Of Film Reviews The Thin Blue Line And Finds A Gripping And Groundbreaking Documentary

In November 1976, Dallas police officer, Robert W Wood was shot and killed after stopping a stolen car.

The murder sent shock waves throughout the US putting the Texas police service under huge pressure to make an arrest and ensure that an appropriate level of justice was served.


Before long. all the evidence pointed to a troubled 16 year old called David Ray Harris. After the crime, Harris told his friends that he was the one who shot Wood. When questioned, however, Harris told the police that a man he had given a lift to that night, Randall Dale Adams, had killed Wood.

Despite the overwhelming amount of evidence that suggested Harris was guilty, the police charged Adams with murder. Adams was later found guilty and sentenced to death.

The Thin Blue Line, examines the case against Adams. It interviews all of the key players involved - including Adams, Harris, the presiding judge, detectives involved in the case and witnesses to the crime.

Using these interviews and dramatic reenactments, the documentary argues that Adams was a victim of a grave miscarriage of justice. It suggests Harris was believed because he was a juvenile at the time of the murder and, therefore, could not be sentenced to death under Texas law. 

Is It Any Good?

The Thin Blue Line is a truly remarkable documentary. Director, Errol Morris, set out to prove the innocence of Adams and highlight the fact that he not received a fair trial. It is a gripping film as Morris (who had worked as a private investigator) uncovers new evidence, pieces the story together and ends with a startling confession from Harris.

The fact that the evidence presented in The Thin Blue Line led to Adams being freed, makes the film (and the documentary genre as a whole) feel immensely powerful. 

The Thin Blue Line also examines human nature and how the decisions we make can spin out of control - in this case leading to the most horrendous of outcomes. Despite knowing the story, the film made me feel incredibly tense - I was gripped as I watched the nightmare that Adams endured unfold.

Morris has incredible access to all of the key players in the case and he allows them all to tell their stories. How powerful and yet how chilling to hear from Adams and then Harris. How interesting to get the detectives’ take on the case. Morris manages to break down each character and reveal his or her deeper motivations.


Watching this film, I couldn’t understand how Adams could have been charged with Woods’ murder, let alone be found guilty. 

However, the Dallas police wanted tough justice and the jury were convinced that a guilty verdict was (like the thin red line from Rudyard Kipling’s poem, Tommy) all that stood between society and anarchy. 

The Thin Blue Line was successful in what it set out to achieve. The film helped to secure the freedom of Adams. It also elevated film (and documentary film in particular) to a higher level - one capable of bringing about real and powerful change.

Random Observations

Adams was released from prison after serving 12 and a half years. Some of that time was spent on death row. 

After his release, Adams said: “The man you see before you is here by the grace of God. The fact that it took 12 and a half years and a movie to prove my innocence should scare the hell out of everyone in this room and, if it doesn’t, then that scares the hell out of me”

Adams died of a brain tumour in 2010.

Harris was never charged with the murder of Woods. However, in 2004 he was executed via lethal injection for another murder - that of Mark Mays.


Have you seen The Thin Blue Line?

If so, what did you think of this powerful documentary? I’d love to know - leave me a comment in the box below!

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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones



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