The Thin Blue Line (1988) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Thin Blue Line (1988)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Movie Info

This is the fascinating, controversial true story of the arrest and conviction of Randall Adams for the murder of a Dallas policeman in 1976. Billed as "the first movie mystery to actually solve a murder," the film is credited with overturning the conviction of Randall Dale Adams for the murder of Dallas police officer Robert Wood, a crime for which Adams was sentenced to death. With its use of expressionistic reenactments, interview material and music by Philip Glass, it pioneered a new kind of non-fiction filmmaking. Its style has been copied in countless reality-based television programs and feature films.

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Critic Reviews for The Thin Blue Line

All Critics (16) | Top Critics (3)

The Thin Blue Line is one of the films that helped make documentaries a viable entertainment option for arthouse moviegoers during the indie-film boom of the 1980s and '90s.

March 23, 2015 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

Although The Thin Blue Line assembles an almost inassailable case... it is not a conventional documentary -- not a feature-length version of one of those 60 Minutes segments in which innocent men are rescued from Death Row.

January 1, 2000 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…

Documentaries have changed minds, championed causes, and even reversed policy, but The Thin Blue Line (1988) may be the first film to free a man from prison.

February 3, 2018 | Full Review…

...engaging as a procedural and compelling as a meditation on the nature of truth.

November 11, 2015 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Morris was working in a dangerous middle ground between the traditional documentary and the fictional feature film, and his merging of various techniques paid off in a film of singular uniqueness in both its aesthetic approach and its real-world impact.

March 31, 2015 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

The Thin Blue Line is proof that sometimes, though rarely, the political impact of a film can be as tangible as an innocent man being freed from prison.

December 11, 2013 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Thin Blue Line


Errol Morris has brought true crime documentaries to a high-quality level with this influential, mind-changing and at times quite scary film that offers some compelling evidence of how flawed the American justice system is and how easy it is to convict an innocent man of murder.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer


Morris' central achievement in my opinion is placing the viewer non-partially into the judge's chair and, in very, very quiet tones, simply asks you to be the judge, to make a decision: who is the murderer here? The evidence is placed before you without fanfare; the murder, the accused, the suspected, the witnesses, the suspicions, the allegations, the conjecture, the blame. I was in the midst of deciding before I realised how skillfully I had been made to give a damn.

Kevin M. Williams
Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer

"A softcore movie, Dr. Death, a chocolate milkshake, a nosey blonde and "The Carol Burnett Show." Solving this mystery is going to be murder." A film that successfully argued that a man was wrongly convicted for murder by a corrupt justice system in Dallas County, Texas.

The film happened almost by accident: Morris became sidetracked while researching another project and began to investigate, on film, the case of Adams and Harris, two strangers whose paths crossed in Dallas one night in November of 1976. What the documentary maker discovered from his own methodical accumulation of clues, rumors, and offhand testimony was an overwhelming case against the young drifter David Harris, who clearly fingered Adams for his own crime. Morris was aided by a convincing and articulate defense presented by Adams himself, whose calm recitation of facts is often more hypnotic than the ominous Philip Glass music score. Director Errol Morris reconstructs the case using old film footage, odd graphic digressions, dramatic reenactments, and interviews with almost everyone involved, including the likely true killer, who tacitly admits his guilt in the final scene. The film is more artfully arranged than most documentaries, and yet is so honest in its pursuit of the truth that it proved instrumental in correcting a miscarriage of justice (after it opened, the case against Harris was reopened, and eventually overturned). The director himself remains (as usual) all but invisible throughout the film, except for his trademark deadpan irreverence (the word blue in the title is colored red, and so forth). A tragic miscarriage of justice would seem an inappropriate source of laughs, but the streak of dark humor underlines the sometimes absurd workings of an imperfect legal system.

Lorenzo von Matterhorn
Lorenzo von Matterhorn

Super Reviewer

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