Review by Tim Lam
“I did not tell the whole truth. Nobody tells the whole truth.”
These words were uttered by reclusive real-estate heir and triple murder suspect Robert Durst in the HBO documentary The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.
Durst is linked to three murders stretching back to the 1980s – the disappearance of his wife in 1982, the murder of his friend Susan Berman in 2000 and the gruesome death of his neighbour in 2001. However, he was never convicted of any of the crimes.
The Jinx is a six-part documentary that seeks to expose the truth behind the murders. Director Andrew Jerecki adopts the role of an investigator as he talks with police, forensic experts and the victims’ families. But Jerecki had access to one crucial witness no journalist had interviewed before – Robert Durst himself.
The one-on-one interviews between Durst and Jarecki unfold like a modern day Frost/Nixon showdown. The viewer, like Jarecki, analyses Durst’s every answer and examines every change in his facial expression in the hope of uncovering the truth behind the deaths that seem to shadow this man’s life.
Durst is an intriguing and magnetic screen presence, mesmerising in his eccentricity. At times he comes across as a confused and vulnerable old man; in other instances he displays the characteristics of a calculated, cold-blooded killer. He can be flippantly candid when he rationalises his bizarre behaviour, but he also supplies evasive answers that teasingly hint at his complicity in the murders.
Despite a total running time of nearly six hours, The Jinx is briskly paced and cleverly edited to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. The filmmakers combine meticulous research with captivating drama to create an absorbing tale of family politics, deceit, mystery and stunning revelations. The end result is six hours of gripping and engrossing storytelling that culminate in a chilling climax.
The Jinx is compelling television with consequences that continue to play out in real life. The documentary raises serious ethical questions about the increasingly blurred line between journalism and entertainment. The legal admissibility of the evidence gathered throughout the filmmaking process will be critical in determining Durst’s guilt or innocence if and when he faces court. Whatever the outcome of any court case, The Jinx succeeded in reviving a 30-year-old cold case and, in the process, set forth a chain of events that may hopefully bring closure for the victims’ families.
To the external observer, Durst’s motives for participating in the documentary, and in the process seemingly implicate himself, seem suspicious. But Durst has always been an enigma and a man of contradictions. Perhaps the strange, irrational logic of Robert Durst is something only he will ever truly understand.
The Jinx is now available on DVD.