Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Hitchcock has us thinking of “innocent man wrongly accused” movies.
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
In 1976, a Dallas police officer was killed during a routine traffic stop, and when the cops questioned a teenager who’d boasted about committing the crime, the kid implicated an older man, Randall Adams, with whom he’d been hanging out before the murder. Once Adams was arrested, the facts of the case began to fall into line, with witnesses stepping up to say they’d seen Adams at the scene, and a psychiatrist testifying that Adams was a sociopath who should be executed for the public’s protection. But Errol Morris’ landmark documentary The Thin Blue Line suggests otherwise, using reenactments and persistent questioning to cast doubt on Adams’ guilt, and to suggest that this death-row inmate had been railroaded by a system more interested in an easy win than in justice.
In the years since The Thin Blue Line’s release, the movie has become famous for helping to get Adams sprung from prison; and Morris’ style has been copied by multiple true-crime TV docu-series. But the original still retains its kick, for the way that Morris toys with the audience’s trust, showing one plausible version of the facts of the case and then showing it again and again with key elements altered. The point isn’t to cast doubt on what’s real and what’s not, but to show how easy it is for an innocent person to be locked up by the state on the basis of other people telling a story that they want to be true. It’s a nightmare worthy of Hitchcock, but more scarily plausible.
Availability: The Thin Blue Line is available on DVD from MGM, and available to stream online from several instant-video sources.