The Thin Blue Line: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

March 13, 2015 8 Min Read

Review by: Jake Keet

Plot: What’s it about?

I have seen The Thin Blue Line a few times in my life. Once was as a twelve year old. Once was tonight, as a twenty nine year old. Each viewing was different, and the movie is much better with the passing of time. That said, it doesn’t take somebody much older than twelve years old to see what this movie is all about. Also, the film is not violent in a conventional sense and if you have kids that are intelligent enough to enjoy a documentary I would highly recommend showing it to them. If they are anything like I was at the age of twelve, the movie should serve as a pretty big eye opener.

The movie tells the compelling story of a murder trial in Dallas, Texas, in 1976, involving a drifter, a sixteen year old boy’s testimony, and the death of a police officer. The judge and jury relied on four eye witnesses as the sole evidence to sentence Randall Adams to death. Three of which had their own reasons for providing evidence. Add shoddy police practices and wildly varying testimonials, and you have a pretty intriguing documentary setup. The greatest benefit of having Errol Morris direct and write the film, is the benefit of having a private investigator as a documentarian. Now, if you have not read about The Thin Blue Line, stop reading here and don’t read the back of the box or on IMDB or anything. They will ruin the ending to the true life story. If you don’t care about spoilers, read underneath.

For anyone who has seen The Thin Blue Line, it becomes quite obvious that a miscarriage of justice has been performed. It is made extremely clear that Randall Adams was completely innocent, and David Harris is a charming sociopathic murderer. It became one of the most incredible documentaries ever filmed when it surfaced enough new evidence to get Randall Adams released from prison. When I was a kid, this movie showed me the inherent problems with a justice system ruled by peers. The easiest thing to remember is that a good amount of your peers are absolutely brainless. I remember being absolutely blown away that this atrocity could happen in a country that we idealize. The second thing that blew me away about this picture was the idea that art could literally save a life. Thanks to this film there was justice served. Honestly, it is hard to heap more praise on this film than others before have talked about.

This movie was made for very little money, but they managed to get Philip Glass to do the soundtrack which was a nice touch. Considering that I watched this on a beat up VHS, it is fantastic to see the film in restored glory. This movie has some pretty heavy themes, so you may want to rent it before you fork up the cash to own it. That said, it is a fantastic film and I definitely have no complaints with the treatment that Criterion has provided.

Video: How’s it look?

This movie was never much of a power house visually. It was made on a string budget and due to the subject matter consisting of interviews with principal characters and reenactments there is just not much here to catch the eye. That said, this movie has had an absolute overhaul and I believe that this is the best that this film could ever look. Grain is persistent and film like. Detailing is quite good for the most part. If you know what you are getting, you will be very pleased. The first time I saw the flashing red police light, it blew my mind. That said, if you didn’t watch it on a VHS that you had to perform tracking on, you may not share my experience.

Audio: How’s it sound?

The DTS Master Audio 2.0 track is extremely reserved for the most part with the exception of the numerous times the firing of the pistol is reenacted. Fidelity of the track is strong. Clarity of dialogue is very solid. Philip Glass’s score really shines on the lossless track and sounds quite good coming through the front speakers. I was very pleased with this track, even though it is nothing to write home about.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Errol Morris – Errol Morris loves to talk. I have listened to him on podcasts and watched numerous of his films. I really enjoyed this interview. It helped to shine some light on his career as a private investigator and how he shaped the film. I definitely would highly recommend this supplement as it almost sits in for a commentary. (41 min, 1080p).
  • Joshua Oppenheimer – The director of The Act of Killing brings up some fairly interesting points on the importance of The Thin Blue Line in the realm of documentaries. I thought this feature was somewhat interesting, but  it was pretty dry after watching the Errol Morris interview.(15 min, 1080p).
  • Today: “Close Up” – This is a pretty great clip. A young Bryant Gumble, Errol Morris, and Randall Adams. Worth watching, albeit a bit dry and short. (6 min, 1080i).
  • Leaflet – an illustrated leaflet featuring an essay by film scholar Charles Musser.

The Bottom Line

The Thin Blue Line is an incredibly important film that people should pay attention towards. It is a fantastic piece of work, and is all the better for having real world impact. Those on the fence may want to rent it first, as I am not sure how much replay value they will get out of it. The video and audio are perfect for what they are, but are not going to blow anybody out of the water. The supplements were some of the weakest I have seen in a Criterion release, with the exception of a fantastic interview with Errol Morris. Overall, I would definitely recommend this film, and if you are looking to own it, this will be the definitive version to purchase.

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