One thing is for certain: on November 28, 1976, during a routine traffic stop, Texas Police Officer Robert Wood was shot and killed.
Soon after, Randall Dale Adams received the unexpected brunt of angry law enforcement.
Adams, formerly of Ohio, seems a nice enough fellow, at least to hold a conversation with in town or something. Yet, in the film, his mind is blatantly preoccupied. Likely over why the hell he is the one behind bars when there is another fellow, David Harris, reportedly better deserving of his situation. The situation is that Adams is convicted of murdering Officer Robert Wood in cold blood that curious November evening.
At the adult age of 28, Adams isn't any sort of rascal who rolls around in his vehicle late at night waiting to express his sociopathic aggression. No, he is a citizen with a newly acquired home in Texas and has a steady paying job. Prior to 1976 Adams has to no criminal offense nor any legitimate association with the law enforcement. He is otherwise passable for a good man. It was in November of 1976 that he unfortunately met the young David Harris, who, by sixteen, becomes a human succubus.
Whilst Harris vaunts about shooting the officer, it is Randall Adams that gets the blame for the attack. Harris points his nasty trigger finger at Adams and off goes the man hunt, without any redress (on behalf of the authorities) of Harris or his involvement in the November crime. Surprise surprise, Harris’s freedom results in more crime, including robbery, kidnapping, sexual assault, and another murder, for which he is finally sent to jail. Concurrently Adams appeals his conviction over the death of Officer Wood and is finally granted the appeal. Although Adams served a life sentence at the time of the documentary’s production, The Thin Blue Line (1988) is accredited for his eventual release.
From an artistic standpoint, Errol Morris’s crime reenactments qualitatively put those of the friday night crime mystery hour to utter shame. The reenactments surpass all other attempts because they provide the viewer with detailed visual proof of what each of the parties involved claim to be true. Never mind the fact that The Thin Blue Line sets an aesthetic standard in the late 1980‘s--the standard holds true for documentary film today! To be fair, its technical and visional prominence are likely unattainable for present day documentarians. Unfortunately, not for Morris’s use of mimeo, but the rather wishy washy reenactment style of docudrama (one of ‘kind of but not really similar to the real guy actors with an overuse of eccentric camera shots’), has put filmic regeneration at a quality standstill. Or perhaps the overuse has also caused a reconsideration for the technique. Nonetheless, the reenactments, along with the anomaly of characters and their stories, not only draw the viewer into the bizarre world of crime solving, but help the viewer make a decision on who is guilty. The evidence Morris chronicles is nonetheless telling to what indeed happened and who really deserves to rot in a cell.