'The Thin Blue Line' DVD Review ***** 091505


The Work = *****
In Texas a police officer named Robert Wood was shot and killed. There were two suspects; Randall Adams went to jail for the crime, the other suspect David Harris, went free testifying against Adams. The crime was in 1976 and then some years later Harris too would end up in jail for a separate murder. Enter filmmaker Errol Morris who if I am not mistaken had been working on a documentary in the early 1980s. The documentary was on a related subject and while working he heard about the Wood murder case. The more he learned the more interested he became. His interest changed the case of the slain police officer to the subject of the documentary he made and 'The Thin Blue Line' was born.

I suspect that 'The Thin Blue Line' is probably one of the more influential films made in recent history. The movie is a documentary that plays like a murder-mystery thriller without being condescending or doing injustice to its subjects. Engaging interviews with everyone from the suspects and their acquaintances to law enforcement officials and lawyers are intercut with a stylized reenactment of the murder. The reenactment is filmed in dark noir-like shaded sequences that change depending on which interviewee is recounting what happened that night in Texas when a police officer stopped a car.

To accompany the film is a wonderful score by Philip Glass. Slow and haunting, the score reminded me of the score to the film 'Fargo'. In fact, something about the style, score and tone of this film made me think of 'Fargo'. Now, obviously the two films are very different but 'The Thin Blue Line' somehow seemed similar and I couldn’t help but wonder if A) the Coen Brother’s film 'A Simple Plan' had a bit of an influence on Morris or if 'The Thin Blue Line' rubbed off on the Coen’s. It may also just be that while Fargo is a work of fiction, it is almost wacky enough to have occurred in real life. While there is no real humor in 'The Thin Blue Line', I will say that the ridiculous miscarriage of justice that went on in the case surrounding the shooting of Officer Wood in Texas would play almost like a comedy were it not so tragic.

The similarity between this film and some fictional features is to Morris’s credit. He has made a very entertaining documentary that looks with depth at a case that was a huge tragedy and yet it is as entertaining (if not more so) as any fictional mystery. As contradictions and falsehoods in the trial are revealed the film becomes more and more gripping. Always present are the stylized reenactments that sometimes focus so closely on one detail that it is shown over and over again in slow motion shots (such as the milkshake.)

I cannot begin to stress how much I enjoyed and recommend 'The Thin Blue Line'. It is an important film because it is about a real case and a real miscarriage of justice. It is also important because it is an influential film that has had an impact on cinema and especially documentaries. I am not a skilled enough reviewer to effectively argue this film’s impact but as a viewer it seems to me it has changed the way many documentaries are approached. Highly, highly recommended.

DVD = ***

The Look
The DVD has an anamorphic widescreen transfer of 'The Thin Blue Line'. The film is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This transfer looks decent and the interviews look pretty crisp and hold up well. The surreal film noir sequences look pretty darn good to me, too.

The Sound
The DVD has Dolby Digital 2.0 track as well as subtitles in English, French and Spanish. The track sounded good to me. I think this is a pretty solid transfer (like the image) and I suspect it is as good as it is about to sound. The dialogue was always clear and easy to understand. Glass’s score sounds excellent as well.

The Bonus
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!! I really hope the reason for the lack of extras on this DVD is that it was done at the request of Mr. Morris. All that is on the disc of note is some trailers and an episode of Morris’s TV show 'First Person'. Admittedly the episode is a good one and I do want to check the complete series out but that does not really qualify as a fitting extra feature. 'The Thin Blue Line' deserves real extras, especially considering the impact it had on the case at its center. I heard an interview with Morris around the time of this DVD’s release and he offered some interesting thoughts on the film. Even that brief interview would have been a nice touch. There is a documentary that came out several years ago called, 'A Brief History of Errol Morris' that would have been a perfect addition. It is a shame really, because here is a great film with a huge influence that surely has its place in the history of cinema and it gets a pretty barebones release. Like I said, I hope that this was at Morris’s request (although I don’t agree with it.) Come on MGM, oops, I mean now, Sony, release a special edition!!!

All Together = *****
So, here you have it. Obviously I am pretty big on this film. I really do dig it and I think it deserves to find a much wider audience than it has (especially now that documentary films seem to be kinda’ vogue at the moment.) I think writer/ director Joe Carnahan mentions on the DVD commentary and/ or featurettes for the film 'Narc' that he was a fan of 'The Thin Blue Line'. I am sure he is one of many talented filmmakers working in a variety of film genres that are fans of The Thin Blue Line. It is a great movie and holds up well in Morris’s often strange filmography. I wish the DVD had extra features about the film and it would be nice to have a follow up on what happened to the people in the film. (Harris was executed for an unrelated crime last year.) This film is available along with two other early Morris films as a boxed set (which would have made the inclusion of the film 'A Brief History of Errol Morris' all the more fitting,) or by itself. Even if you are a skeptic give 'The Thin Blue Line' a try!


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