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Relationship Between Truth and Fiction in the Thin Blue Line

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 1678 words Published: 29th Jul 2021

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When it comes to balancing the relationship between truth and fiction, The Thin Blue Line directed by Errol Morris, is perfect example of this.  The perfect question of what’s real and what’s fake?  These days, people love murder shows and trying to play detective.  Netflix’s Making a Murder[1] being a prime example of people, in a way, choosing what they want to believe.  What they want to be true and what they want to be fake. 

In this essay, I aim to discuss the relationship between truth and fiction in The Thin Blue Line as well as how the film has influenced the shows and films we watch today.

Back when The Thin Blue Line first premiered in 1988, it was a remarkable film.  To have this documentary focused on the fatal shooting of a Texan police officer was bold.  In 1988, documentary’s like this, just didn’t exists, these days they’re part of our culture of television.

 The Thin Blue Line takes the shooting of officer Robert Wood and allows us to hear the case from the perspectives of the accused, Daryl Adams and his accuser, David Harris, as well as have an insight to the Texan Criminal Justice System, thus allowing us to decide what version of events we believe.  You can use that statement for any of the true crime documentaries that are available to watch today, Netflix’s The Keeper’s[2], Evil Genius[3], The Confession Tapes all have people wondering who’s telling the truth.  Even the controversial Amanda Knox documentary, still has questioning her innocents or guilt.

When talking about his six modes of documentary, Bill Nichols said ‘the reflexive mode will provoke audiences to question the authenticity of documentary in general.[4]

 The best mode to describe The Thin Blue Line is that it’s a Reflexive documentary.  Whenever we see Adam’s or Harris, they’re being interviewed, asked questions and all we see is them, Morris never appears in the shot.  The same can be said for the aforementioned Amanda Knox documentary[5], the directors of the film Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn, all we see when Knox is being interviewed is her.  She’s the titular character, she’s the one we’ve all come to look at and accuse.  In The Thin Blue Line, Adam’s and Harris are the ones we want to watch.  We want to hear what they have to say.   Yes it’s about the shooting of a police officer, but that’s not the subject, Adam’s and Harris are the subjects. There are many Participatory documentaries out there in the world for us all to watch, but probably one of the most known is Louis Theroux.

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When we start this film, it’s eleven years later, Adam’s has been in prison all that time and Harris, is serving time after being found guilty of a different crime.  The way we are presented the evidence is via the accounts of Adam’s and Harris, Adam’s has been locked up for eleven years and sounds like prison has given him all the time in the world to go over his story.  He goes over the crime in meticulous detail, like those eleven years being locked up have given him time to think about his story. 

The trial lasted ninety days and even though both Adams’s and Harris’s version of events have been told, it’s Adam’s they decide to try.  Even though Harris bragged on countless accounts to actually murdering the office or ‘pig’ a he so delightfully puts it.   In Texas Randal Adams was old enough for the death penalty, if found guilty.[6]

The Thin Blue Line has a very linier structure, it’s not jumbled all over the place, it’s easy to understand.  Just because it’s easy to understand, doesn’t mean it’s not an impressive piece of film.  It’s got everything you want in a documentary, interviews with police, the witnesses, even if you are the fame hungry woman in red, who clearly inserts herself into the investigation.  Even the way Morris incorporates his camera angles, make this film unique.  

Morris places himself as a witness, he himself become the one trying to find out what happened and how this case could possibly become a miscarriage of justice.  In recent years, this type of style can be seen highly in the podcast Serial[7], in which journalist Sarah Koenig sets out to try and find out whether seventeen-year old Adnan Syed murdered his girlfriend in 1999.  Like Morris, Koenig starts to find that the story we’re so used to hearing, might not be the whole truth.

Even though Morris found evidence of Prosecutorial Misconduct and witness tampering, [8] after the witness could not pick Adam’s out of a line was ‘helped’ by a police officer in identifying Adam’s.

The case was tried by ADA Doug Mulder, who in those days, was a big deal.  He’d never lost a case, and wasn’t going to lose this one.  Mulder was later found out to have suppressed evidence, that would have helped defend Adam’s.[9]   Again, in Adams V. Texas, The Texan Court of Appeals they said that Mulder “suppressing evidence favorable to the accused, deceiving the trial court … and knowingly using perjured testimony.”

 Adams was sentenced to death, but had his execution later stayed by SCOTUS, the Supreme Court Of The United States.

Harris was never tried for the killing of Robert Wood, but he was however charged with the 1985 murder of Mark Mays.  Harris tired to abduct the victims girlfriend, he was  executed on 2004, some twenty-eight years after the murder of Robert Wood.  [10] 

 Adams however, after twelve years of serving time, his case was dropped by the Texan Court of Criminal Appeals, [11] he was later released and despite being in prison for twelve years, he received no compensation from the Texan state. 

 Since his release Adams became an activist for the Death penalty.  Being anti-death penalty.  Adams died in of a brain tumor in Ohio in 2010, but due to the quiet life he led, his death wasn’t reported until June of the following year.

 I suppose, in the conclusion of this essay, the truth and can blurred, it can be manipulated to whatever we want to see, in the case of The Thin Blue Line, it was manipulated to prosecute an innocent man.  In retrospect, I’m happy that Adams got to his case overturned and he was released, it just shows that if you get enough people at the evidence, the whole story becomes clear and the truth will out.

The truth will out.


  • Adams V. Texas [1990] 48 U.S. 38.
  • Amanda Knox. (2016). [film] Directed by R. Blackhurst and B. McGinn. Italy, United Kingdom, United States of America: Netflix.
  • Assosiated Press (2004). ‘Thin Blue Line’ prisoner executed in Texas.. [online] Available at: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/5336585/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/thin-blue-line-prisoner-executed-texas/#.XDFAkPzgrR0 [Accessed 5 Jan. 2019].
  • Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist. (2018). [film] Directed by B. Schroeder. United States of America: Netflix.
  • Justia Law. (1979). Adams v. State. [online] Available at: https://law.justia.com/cases/texas/court-of-criminal-appeals/1979/60037-2-1.html [Accessed 5 Jan. 2019].
  • Langford, M. (1989). ‘Thin Blue Line’ conviction overturned. [online] UPI. Available at: https://www.upi.com/Archives/1989/03/02/Thin-Blue-Line-conviction-overturned/3059604818000/ [Accessed 6 Jan. 2019].
  • Making a Murderer. (2015). [film] Directed by L. Ricciardi and M. Demos. United States: Netflix.
  • Solomon, D. (2001). Randall Dale Adams. [online] Texas Monthly. Available at:
  • https://www.texasmonthly.com/articles/randall-dale-adams/ [Accessed 5 Jan. 2019].
  • The Keepers. (2017). [film] Directed by R. White. United States of America: Netflix.
  • This American Life (2014). The Alibi. [podcast] Serial. Available at: https://serialpodcast.org/season-one/1/the-alibi [Accessed 6 Jan. 2019].
  • Trilogy, G. (2015). Nichols’ 6 Modes of Documentary Might Expand Your Storytelling Strategies. [online] No Film School. Available at: https://nofilmschool.com/2015/09/nichols-6-modes-documentary-can-help-expand-your-storytelling [Accessed 6 Jan. 2019].

[1] (Making a Murderer, 2015)


[2] (The Keepers, Netflix, 2017)


[3] Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist, 2018)


[4] https://liftoff.network/bill-nichols-6-modes-documentary/


[5] (Amanda Knox, 2016)


[6] Justice Law. (1979). Adams v. State. [online] Available at: https://law.justia.com/cases/texas/court-of-criminal-appeals/1979/60037-2-1.html [Accessed 5 Jan. 2019].


[7] (This American Life, 2014)


[8] Solomon, 2001


[9] (Adams V. Texas, [1990])


[10] (Associated Press, 2004)


[11] (Langford, 1989)



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