This landmark award-winning documentary, which revolutionised the form and helped acquit an innocent man of murder, came about almost by accident. Errol Morris had already directed such offbeat documentaries as Gates of Heaven
(concerning pet cemeteries) and Vernon, Florida
, which touchingly portrays the small town's eccentric inhabitants. He'd intended to travel to Texas to make a film about the criminal-psychiatry expert James Grigson, or "Dr. Death" as he came to be known for his frequent testimony against defendants, who were often then sent to death row. When Morris discovered that the doctor was involved in the trial of Randall Dale Adams, a man who, it seemed, had been falsely accused of the highway murder of a police officer, he decided that Adams's story was the real one to tell. Morris' innovative use of repeated dramatisation, multiple points of view, talking-head and phone interviews, and symbolism--in concert with Philip Glass's haunting music--establishes that a combination of communitarian zeal and overly eager testimony persuaded the jury to find Adams, a "drifter" from the Midwest, guilty of the crime, instead of his underage (and, for the death penalty, ineligible) acquaintance, David Harris, who had a criminal record. The "thin blue line" of police officers separating the public from chaos--as the judge, quoting the DA in the case, has it--destabilises in Morris's world and puts people at risk of injustice as often as it protects them. After serving time for a sentence commuted to life imprisonment, Adams was freed, making Errol Morris his most talented advocate. --Robert Burns Neveldine, Amazon.com
Classic documentary from director Errol Morris. In 1976 the brutal murder of a Dallas policeman resulted in the arrest of David Harris, a sixteen-year-old who had been bragging about the killing. But when Harris changed his story and identified drifter Randall Adams as the murderer, it was Adams who was convicted and sentenced to death. Reconstructing the murder with film clips, photographs, re-enactments and interviews, this film brings that verdict into question.