The Thin Blue Line (1988)

Not Rated  |   |  Documentary, Crime, Drama  |  25 August 1988 (USA)
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Ratings: 8.1/10 from 13,759 users   Metascore: 79/100
Reviews: 60 user | 51 critic | 12 from

A film that successfully argued that a man was wrongly convicted for murder by a corrupt justice system in Dallas County, Texas.



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11 wins & 5 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Randall Adams ...
David Harris ...
Gus Rose ...
Himself (Homicide Detective in Dallas)
Jackie Johnson ...
Herself (Homicide Detective in Dallas)
Marshall Touchton ...
Himself (Homicide Detective in Dallas)
Dale Holt ...
Himself (Internal Affairs Investigator in Dallas)
Sam Kittrell ...
Himself (Police Detective in Vidor)
Hootie Nelson ...
Himself (Friend of David Harris in Vidor)
Dennis Johnson ...
Himself (Friend of David Harris in Vidor)
Floyd Jackson ...
Himself (Friend of David Harris in Vidor)
Edith James ...
Herself (Defense Attorney)
Dennis White ...
Himself (Defense Attorney)
Don Metcalfe ...
Himself (The Judge)
Emily Miller ...
Herself (Surprise Eyewitness)
R.L. Miller ...
Himself (Surprise Eyewitness)


Errol Morris's unique documentary dramatically re-enacts the crime scene and investigation of a police officer's murder in Dallas, Texas. Briefly, a drifter (Randall Adams) ran out of gas and was picked up by a 16-year-old runaway (David Harris). Later that night, they drank some beer, smoked some marijuana, and went to the movies. Then, their stories diverged. Adams claimed that he left for his motel, where he was staying with his brother, and went to sleep. Harris, however, said that they were stopped by police late that night, and Adams suddenly shot the officer approaching their car. The film shows the audience the evidence gathered by the police, who were under extreme pressure to clear the case. It strongly makes a point that the circumstantial evidence was very flimsy. In fact, it becomes apparent that Harris was a much more likely suspect and was in the middle of a crime spree, eventually ending up on Death Row himself for the later commission of other crimes. Morris implies ... Written by Tad Dibbern <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


A softcore movie, Dr. Death, a chocolate milkshake, a nosey blonde and "The Carol Burnett Show." Solving this mystery is going to be murder.


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

25 August 1988 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

På en skör tråd  »

Box Office


$1,209,846 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
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Did You Know?


Was rejected by the Oscars for Best Documentary category in 1989 because it was considered to be a fictional film due to its scripted content. See more »


Melvyn Carson Bruder: Prosecutors in Dallas have said for years - any prosecutor can convict a guilty man. It takes a great prosecutor to convict an innocent man.
See more »

Crazy Credits

Drawings from the Bender Visual Motor Gestalt Test © 1946, American Orthopsychiatric Association Inc. and Lauretta Bender, M.D. See more »


References Silent Movie (1976) See more »

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User Reviews

Rough justice
12 August 2008 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

I first saw this film not longer after its initial release some 20 years ago and images and scenes from it have stayed with me ever since, so that it was with considerable anticipation that I re-watched it again recently. Down the years I can still recall Randall Adams drawling in his unforgettable voice "The kid scares me", the ever-revolving red light on the cop-car and most of all Philip Glass' wonderful, hypnotic music. The depiction of the fateful night of the cold-blooded murder of the policeman is shown from, almost literally, every possible angle, conveyed in a highly stylised way with almost every speculated remembrance of the doubtful list of every dubious (and are they ever dubious!) witness played out on the screen, the effect, in so doing, to completely explode their fantasist recollections, as was no doubt the director's aim. The reconstructions are set alongside filmed interviews of most of the main protagonists (with the main exception of the second cop in the car who witnessed the killing). As you watch these, the centrepiece clearly becomes the contrasting testimony of the almost-certain murderer David Harris with the wronged Randall Adams, the first coming across from the start as duplicitous and uncaring, the latter as bemused but reasoning. I was particularly taken with the eruditeness of Adams, who suppresses his inner rage with admirable restraint as he points the viewer time and again back to the evidence. As an indictment of the American criminal justice system, it hits home hard; it appears that investigation standards head for the hills especially when the law has a cop-killer to nail. Thankfully the miscarriage of justice was eventually resolved although it makes you grateful for the coincidence which led director Morris to change the subject course of his original project to instead highlight Adams' case culminating in his release soon after the film was first shown. The film however is more than a crusading documentary and there is much for students and admirers of the film-makers art to enjoy. Unforgettable, really, almost haunting, and proof if needed that truth really is stranger than fiction.

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