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The Thin Blue Line

MGM Home Video

★★★★

The recent death of Randall Adams at age 61 provides a good reason to take another look at the 1988 film that helped free Adams from a Texas prison’s Death Row. Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris (“The Fog of War”) spent 2½ years researching, tracking down witnesses and painstakingly re-creating the murder of a Texas police officer, the crime for which Adams, an unemployed drifter, had been convicted and sentenced to death. The director’s efforts revealed a series of mistakes, deceptions and outright lies that ignored facts and nearly led to the state-sanctioned killing of an innocent man.

Mr. Morris worked as a private investigator before becoming a filmmaker and displays a remarkable skill for holding viewers’ attention while thoroughly exploring the case down to the smallest details. Two ironies about “The Thin Blue Line”: First, despite all that Mr. Morris did for him, Adams sued him in an attempt to get a share of the profits from the movie (there weren’t any, and the case was dismissed). Second, despite all the acclaim the film received, it failed to nab an Oscar nomination for best documentary feature. At least you can see what the Academy missed. MPAA Rating: Unrated, but contains some profanity and re-creations of violent behavior.

Back of the Rack

The Widow of Saint-Pierre

Lionsgate Home Video

★★★★

This week’s Back of the Rack pick spotlights the work of French director Patrice Leconte. Despite a string of critically acclaimed films (“Man on the Train,” “My Best Friend” and “The Hairdresser’s Husband” among them), he lacks the international following of a Francois Truffaut or Jean-Luc Godard. This film is one of his finest.

Set on the small island of St. Pierre in the 1850s, “The Widow of Saint-Pierre” tells the story of August, who in a drunken stupor kills Jean, the captain of a fishing boat. August is sentenced to death, but must wait for a new guillotine to be sent from Paris. In the meantime, August begins working while imprisoned. His efforts help make the island a better place to live. He even attempts to reach out to the captain’s widow (Juliette Binoche) and make some sort of reparation for her loss. By the time the guillotine arrives, August is no longer the man he was when the killing took place, but the law demands he be put to death. What will prevail — justice or mercy?

With this absorbing and compelling drama, Mr. Leconte supplies a great deal of food for thought and discussion. Miss Binoche, Daniel Auteuil as Jean and Emir Kusturica as August do excellent work. As the story unfolds, their characters reveal elements of themselves that add to the film’s emotional impact. A rich and sweeping tale, “Widow” provides a superb introduction to a gifted filmmaker’s work. MPAA Rating: R, for brief violence and sexual content.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

Joe Barber is entertainment editor for WTOP-FM radio and a critic/panelist for WETA-TV’s “Around Town.”