Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 2, 2015)
With HBO’s 2015 mini-series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, we get a documentary about a series of murders. Split into six chapters, The Jinx opens in Galveston TX circa September 2001. A teen discovers a headless, limbless torso that the authorities identify as Morris Black.
As the investigation proceeds, the Galveston police arrest Robert Durst, an unlikely suspect. Then 48 years old, we learn that Durst is part of an uber-rich New York family – and that Durst’s first wife Kathleen mysterious disappeared in 1982, an incident her family believed involved Durst.
Durst skips bail in Galveston and goes on the run. We follow Durst’s legal journey as well as additional revelations/complications that include a third murder, one that involved Durst’s close friend Susan Berman.
We also see how the production of All Good Things, a 2010 Ryan Gosling film based on the Durst case, spawned Jinx - and led to Durst’s direct involvement in the extended documentary.
Through Jinx, we get comments from a mix of sources. We hear from Robert Durst, Galveston Police Detectives Cody Cazalas and Gary Jones, Galveston Assistant District Attorney Joel Bennett, Galveston dive team member Randy Burrows, Durst’s wife Debrah Lee Charatan, New York Times journalist Charles Bagli, former Westchester County, NY DA Jeanine Pirro, Durst Organization Chairman/Robert’s younger brother Douglas, Texas criminal defense attorney Dick Deguerin, Magnolia Pictures’ Eamonn Bowles, Kathie Durst’s mother Ann McCormack and brother Jim McCormack, Kathie Durst’s friends Geraldine McInerney, Eleanor Schwank, Ellen Strauss and Gilberte Najamy, retired NYC Detective Michael Struk, neigbor Bill Mayer, New York State Police Detective Joe Becerra, Durst lake house later owner Gabrielle Colquitt, Westchester DA Office senior investigator Ed Murphy, Susan Berman’s cousins Tom Padden Sr. and Tom Padden Jr., Berman’s friends Lynda Obst, Stephen Silverman, Julie Smith and Kim Lankford, former Westchester Assistant DA Kevin Hynes, Berman’s stepchildren Mella and Sareb Kaufman, Berman’s cousin Deni Marcus, LAPD Detective Paul Coulter, former Galveston County DA Kurt Sistrunk, Durst’s attorneys Chip Lewis and Michael Ramsey, Galveston Judge Susan Criss, jurors Chris Lovell and Joanne Gongora, nephew Evan Kreeger, niece Elizabeth McCormack, cab driver Ross Vitalie, and forensic document examiner John Osborn.
As I write this in September 2015, I’m 48 years old, the same age Durst was when arrested for the slaying of Morris Black. Across those 48 years, I have yet to be accused of murder. I don’t know anyone else who’s been involved in a homicide, whether as suspect or victim.
When I see a story about someone closely connected to not one, not two but three murders, I find it awfully tough not to view that person as the one behind those crimes. What are the odds a single guy could coincidentally be attached to so many slayings?
Of course, such a connection wouldn’t stand up in a court of law, but it sure adds to the depth of Jinx, a fascinating look at Durst and his life. One concern I felt as I went into Jinx came from my foreknowledge of the documentary. When the sixth and final episode ran, it received a lot of attention due to the revelations it produced. Although I’d not followed the Durst case or the film, I read about this information, so I worried that my understanding of these “spoilers” would affect my screening of the program.
It didn’t. Even with my prior awareness of the documentary’s potentially shocking climax, I remained absorbed by Jinx. I won’t mention those “spoilers”, of course, but even if I did, I can’t imagine a viewer would find the program to be any less fascinating.
This all comes from the meticulous manner in which Jarecki tells the tale. He plots out all the elements in a way that makes them connect seamlessly and also move along at a good pace. Jinx never feels slow or awkward, as instead it cranks along well.
Don’t think that Jinx sacrifices detail in the pursuit of speed, though. The documentary covers various areas in a reasonably thorough manner – as thorough as one can expect from this sort of programming, that is – and touches the appropriate topics well.
The program also knows when it needs to move to the next area. This means we don’t feel inundated with too much data, as the documentary understands when it should get to the next topic. This allows for the flow to work.
My only complaint comes from the documentary’s biggest evidence-related “revelation”. We see the piece of evidence earlier in Jinx and its connection to the case immediately becomes obvious.
Apparently, those involved didn’t realize it until much later, though – or they simply saved it to allow Jinx to have a more dramatic climax. Whatever the case, this segment doesn’t seem especially revelatory or shocking because I think so many viewers already figured out the link.
Despite that one minor misstep, The Jinx becomes a riveting crime documentary. It covers its subject well and tells its tale in a tense, absorbing manner.