The Jinx review

The following is a review is of the entire The Jinx miniseries, and therefore discusses events that occur in later episodes.

True crime documentaries on television tend to focus on the most salacious aspects of the cases. There often seems to have been a definite attempt to, if not quite glamorise, then at the very least, sensationalise murder.

Television programmes that take a look at murders are frequently about the murderers too, and not the victims. This encourages the audience to engage with and become fascinated with people who seem capable of anything, however monstrous.

And into these murky waters dives director Andrew Jarecki, head first. His six hour mini-series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, or just The Jinx, as it is more commonly referred to, is a profile of alleged killer and larger than life character, Robert Durst.

This is man who has been linked to multiple murders but has only been arrested for this crime once, in 2003, following the death of his neighbour Morris Black. Somewhat surprisingly, Durst was acquitted, despite admitting that he had dismembered Black’s body.

Aside from the remarkable final two episodes, in which there are some stunning revelations, much of The Jinx is the treading of water. It’s only when Jarecki starts to delve into Durst’s incredibly wealthy and highly influential New York family that the show catches fire. There’s a lot of compelling investigation into how Durst’s privileged position and access to vast funds may have not only enabled him to commit his crimes but also shielded him from prosecution.

Additionally, there’s a passing suggestion that perhaps this privilege was a factor in Durst becoming a murdered in the first place, his point of view developing so that he maybe saw other people’s lives as less important.

This material sparks and is, at first highly compelling. There’s a creeping sense that the Durst family may even have been aware of what Bob was up to from very early, which sends a shiver down the spine. Unfortunately, the spark fizzles out before catching light and Jarecki never actually explores these ideas.

The Jinx, for the most part, skims along the surface, satisfied to focus on filling us in on the facts surrounding Durst’s highly unusual life and the murders that surround him but nothing beneath or behind this.

Jarecki’s motivation appears to be entertaining or thrilling his audience, and his structure has been designed to deliver information when it provides dramatic tension rather than insight or a fuller understanding.

Jarecki directed a fiction films, All Good Things, that fictionalised elements of this story, and it was after this that Durst requested the director interview him. Once you see the result, it’s hard to understand why: Jarecki doesn’t need to take a hatchet to Durst, he does it all by himself.

Durst shows odd disregard for how he may appear to other people, and Jarecki revels in this, creating something of a movie monster out of someone who already seems to be a terrifying figure in real life. Just watch the opening credits of The Jinx – featuring Fresh Blood by the Eels – and you’ll get a good idea of the angle Jarecki has taken.

And yet, despite all my reservations about Jarecki’s approach and his often perfunctory filmmaking – including some truly awful recreations – the final two episodes of The Jinx are some of the most gripping, heart-racing television I have ever seen.

As I witnessed Jarecki discovering a key piece of evidence to link Durst to the murder of Susan Berman in 2000, a knot slowly developed in my stomach.

And as he confronted Durst about it, this knot began to tighten. And tighten.

And then there’s the show’s big reveal, an accidental recording in which Durst appears to confess. At one point he even says “What the hell did I do?.. Killed them all, of course.”

Jarecki’s use of this as a grand climax  is incredibly effective, not to mention well-foreshadowed in an earlier episode where Durst forgets that his mic is still hot. I’d be surprised to see anything so dramatically charged as this any time soon.

But the show certainly opens many questions about real crimes and murder being represented as entertainment, and how filmmakers like Jarecki may manipulate a real murder case in order to suit the desire to create high stakes drama.

Jarecki, who also produced the highly ethically dubious Catfish, may have helped catch a murderer and also made two episodes of thrilling television, but the way in which he did this, and the show’s lack of sensitivity to the real victims of the murder,  proves incredibly troubling.

Must-watch television perhaps, but one that comes at a cost.

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst is currently playing on Sky Atlantic, with a new episode premièring every Thursday, but you can also currently stream the entire series on NowTV.