2015, TV

The Jinx (2015)

This is a pretty masterful documentary about Robert Durst, the son of a New York real estate baron who inspired the fictionalized film All Good Things and who was accused of murdering three people. I saw All Good Things sometime after this came out. But, fortunately, I waited something less than eight years to watch this. Because I forgot most of All Good Things and, much more importantly, I forgot most of what I had accidentally learned about this mini series.

Mild SPOILERS if you somehow waited as long as me to watch this

This is one of those things that shouldn’t exist. A little like his first feature Capturing the Friedmans (which I loved at the time), this film came about by accident. Imagine if your wife had gone missing and her family blamed you, and a man made a fictionalized movie about it, and then you reached out to that very same director to tell your story. It doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Durst is an extremely compelling interview. Jarecki admits to liking him at one point and I can see why (provided you’re on his good side): he’s a quirky curmudgeon who has never had to pretend to be nice to people he doesn’t like. He strikes me as an extraordinarily good liar in how he appears to be an open book. Durst’s participation in this film is a huge key to its success and that only becomes more true as the series goes on.

The series starts out as a fairly typical true crime procedural in the first episode, until Durst is introduced and then it obviously stands out from your typical true crime shows and films. And then things fall into a fairly straight-forward pattern, covering his life, the disappearance of his first wife, the murder of his friend and the murder of his neighbour. Typical true crime stuff, plus the accused man to provide commentary.

It’s in the penultimate episode when the whole show shifts dramatically, when a past interviewee discovers new evidence, that the show transforms into one of the much watch TV series of the decade. The piece of evidence is explosive. What the filmmakers do with it – and the extent to which they open up their process to us – is why the series became infamous. I would say that, if, for some reason, you are not hooked by episode 1 or episode 2, you owe it to yourself to make it to episode 5. That’s because you won’t be able to watch episode 5 without watching episode 6. And episode 6 is among the tensest bits of documentary filmmaking I’ve ever seen. And the infamous ending is the reason why Robert Durst was [redacted, but readily available all over the internet if you so desire to spoil this for yourself].

A note about the criticism about the infamous dialogue: though I agree there is something slightly unethical about moving around dialogue without indicating you have done so, I have read the real transcript and I am mystified how anyone can read that transcript and not come to the same conclusion.


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