The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest English-Language Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
For a while, one of the unfortunate legacies of The Thin Blue Line is that its use of reconstructed events, corresponding to witness testimony, was adopted by television news shows. Now that that practice has subsided, if not entirely vanished, Errol Morris’s beautiful documentary can be appreciated afresh.
On one level driven by narrow agenda, the film sets out to show that a man then serving a life term for killing a Dallas police officer was most likely innocent. Indeed, the attention Morris’s film drew to this likely miscarriage of justice helped get the man released. This is no small thing for a film to accomplish, but, of course, this speaks not at all to the merits of the work. This does: an eerily engrossing mosaic of interviews, reportage and dramatic reconstructions, with fugue-like repetitions and a both burrowing and meditative temperament, and all of it enriched by steely, somber color and by Philip Glass’s hypnotic music, The Thin Blue Line achieves the aspect of a tone poem on human ambiguities. All this, moreover, combined with the Dallas locale, elusively insinuates the mystery surrounding President Kennedy’s death. The result haunts.
And one thing more: Like Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil (1958), Morris’s film inconveniently rattles us, in this instance, with racist testimony helping to exonerate the imprisoned man.
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