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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

The Thin Blue Line (1988), directed by Errol Morris

If you read no more of this review, at least read this much: watch this movie. It's fantastic and absolutely riveting.

I took Stephen King to task for equating Dallas with Derry in his book 11/22/63, but I can't (and have no desire to) do the same with Morris, who includes a shot of Randall Adams telling us that Dallas is Hell on Earth. Because, in Adams' case, it is exactly that.

This is a documentary about a terrible miscarriage of justice, about how Randall Adams, who wasn't in town more than one day when he had the misfortune to meet a psychopathic teenager, was convicted of killing a cop and sentenced to death.

When the film was released, Adams was still in prison (his sentence having been commuted to life) where he had been for the past 11 years. Because of the film, however, the Appeals court overturned his conviction and sent the case back to Dallas, where, when the DA refused to prosecute, Adams was eventually set free.

That's the good news. The bad news is the subject of this movie: how it happened, and why. Morris lets the people who were involved in the case tell the story, which unfolds like an ominous mystery. There's Adams himself, bitter but very much the everyman; there's the kid, David Harris (now in his late twenties and in jail himself on an unrelated charge), whose personableness shows you both how prosecutors might have chosen to believe him and, given his actions both before and after the murder of the cop, how psychopaths manage to go undetected in our society. And then there are the cops and lawyers and witnesses, each of whom are fascinating in their own right, partly for what they say and partly for what they reveal about themselves and the nature of the case.

Adams, for instance, tells the story of his "interview" with James Grigson, a forensic psychiatrist widely known as "Doctor Death" for his testimony in death penalty cases. I believe the field of psychology has a great deal to offer, but I've read enough true crime to understand how absurd and how worthless it can be in the courtroom. According to Adams, Grigson spent a grand total of about 15 minutes with him and decided that, if he were released, he'd be a danger to society. Since it's so easy to see how one could spend an hour with David Harris and come to the opposite conclusion, the whole process is revealed as a complete fraud.

If you enjoy reading mysteries or about crime or you have an interest in how justice is sometimes meted out in this country -- and even if you don't typically like documentaries -- I would highly recommend this film. It truly is something special.