Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 4 hours 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Andrew Jarecki
Written by: Andrew Jarecki, Marc Smerling & Zachary Stuart-Pontier
Starring: Robert Durst, Andrew Jarecki, Gary Jones, Jeanine Pirro, Douglas Durst, Dick DeGuerin & Marc Smerling
Earlier this year, True-crime aficionados were treated to something truly special with HBO’s miniseries THE JINX. This intense documentary seems to have had the hands of fate behind it as everything lined up perfectly for the filmmakers. From the insane mystery being investigated to a suspected psycho (who’s quirky to say the least) to a finale that shook news stations across the nation, THE JINX is best viewed in a binge as you see every detail unfold and little clues come full circle. Between this and GOING CLEAR (an infuriating behind-the-curtains look at Scientology), HBO is quickly becoming the best television network for important documentaries.
In 2010, Andrew Jarecki directed ALL GOOD THINGS. The film revolved around a young woman’s mysterious disappearance and was inspired by a real-life case involving Robert Durst. So, imagine Jarecki’s surprise when the real-life Durst watched that movie and then called him out-of-the-blue to express interest in doing an interview. Jarecki took Durst up on his strange offer and what resulted is this six-part documentary. However, Kathie Durst’s disappearance is the mere tip of the iceberg regarding Robert’s mysterious past. Kathie was the first in a trio of murders that Durst is suspected of committing. The other two victims include Susan Berman (a former friend who was conveniently killed right before an important interview) and Morris Black (whose corpse was dismembered in Texas). Durst’s case is a strange one all around and Jarecki goes through detail after detail, while interviewing the oddball Durst himself (who was only ever brought up on one murder charge and later acquitted).
Before addressing the elephant in the room, I want to discuss the technical prowess of THE JINX. This is a well-structured documentary. Whereas most true-crime docs include cheesy reenactment segments with over-the-top acting, THE JINX shoots its “reenactments” as brief beautifully shot snippets that don’t override the interviews and archive footage. Jarecki keeps a steady hand in reminding you of the constant stream of evidence and clues that keep piling up in Durst’s case. This is absolutely essential, because there are a lot of things that simply don’t make sense if you assume Robert is innocent. Speaking of which, one might argue that THE JINX has it out for Robert Durst from the get-go. By the conclusion of this documentary, you will either assume that Durst is a cold-blooded killer or he is the most unlucky person in human history. The talking head interviews (consisting of the victims’ friends, Durst’s relatives, detectives and lawyers involved in the case, etc.) reveal pieces of a much larger, stranger puzzle than you might have assumed going into this.
Now to address the elephant in the room, Robert Durst is a crazy person. His on-camera demeanor and his way of talking immediately suck you into this nutty individual. Durst comes off like a predator who carefully calculates how to present himself and which words to utter next. After all, he’s the one who called Jarecki after shunning media attention for decades. He feels that he has the upper hand. You can tell this from some of the things he admits (such as considering escaping as soon as he received bail money) as well as a smug grin that he simply can’t hide at one point. All of this makes for a compelling on-screen battle of wits between himself and Jarecki (who is trying to unearth new evidence as this documentary moves forward).
Also, for a six-hour documentary, you can feel the rising tension as the case gets stranger and creepier with each passing second. The finale has already been revealed to most (with news reports and Robert Durst being arrested the night before the final episode aired), but that doesn’t lessen its impact one bit. It’s amazing that we live in an age where a documentary filmmaker can be more effective than the actual justice system. You could argue that Jarecki is almost trying to sensationalize Durst’s case in moments (including an ethical gray area that’s been made sketchy by Jarecki’s silence after the finale aired). However, that’s a minor flaw in one of the best true-crime documentaries that has ever graced the small screen. Overall, THE JINX is a compelling, creepy, and stranger-than-fiction stunner.