The Thin Blue Line

The Thin Blue Line is a documentary by director Errol Morris. It has been different than what we have seen in our documentary class thus far. This is the 1988 film not to be confused with the 1965 film of the same name. Our filmmaker walks us through the events that led up to and proceeded Nov. 27, 1976 when Officer Robert Wood is shot and killed during a routine vehicle warning.
We meet the man accused and get a brief story of how he came to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We meet the man who actually committed the crime, but up until the end didn’t know for sure if he had done it. We meet various detectives, lawyers, and unreliable witnesses. We also see reenactments, a device which until this film had been considered a no-no of documentary film. The film was snubbed for the Academy Award that year because the rules for documentaries were cinema Vérité. What it did do was free an innocent man, get the real killer to admit to his guilt, and be a template for docudrama and television shows like America’s Most Wanted.
Most of America believed law enforcement was infallible, and beyond reproach. This film was the beginning of opening the eyes of ordinary citizens. The term coined Thin Blue Line by prosecuting attorney Doug Mulder as his closing statement in the case presented in the film, showed the cop unity that became manifest since this documentary. We see flaws in the perfection law enforcement was supposed to be. They were willing to bully a confession out of the man they decided to pin it on, they were willing to bribe “witnesses” through dropping charges and reward money. The veneer crumbled in the span of 103 minutes it took for Morris’ documentary to strip away things that would have been swept under. Since then an entire genre of commercial fiction film has dealt with the subject of crooked cops and their brotherhood.


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