It’s hard to decide which is the more interesting storyline in HBO’s six part documentary series The Jinx: the Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. Durst’s story is fascinatingly macabre: the well known story of the property heir investigated for two murders and a potential third. Perhaps though it is the story of the storytellers themselves that makes this series compelling viewing.
Much in the same way Sarah Koenig transported us with her investigation of the murder of Hae Min Lee and the guilt or not of Adnan Syed, Andrew Jarecki’s personal journey is the one that peaks the greatest interest for me. Over the course of the six episodes Jarecki shows us the awkward humanity of his subject, making the moments when evidence points toward Durst all the more fascinating. The man caught in the wrong place at the wrong time or a multiple murderer?
The storytelling methods are brilliantly executed, with all the sharpness one expects from HBO. If only Crimewatch re-enactments were as watchable as The Jinx’s flashback vignettes! The blend of styles supports the narrative flow, neatly segmenting the chronology of Durst’s life and alleged crimes. Truth is definitely stranger than fiction and that’s what makes the story so watchable. The interview footage between Durst and Jarecki, along with their street scenes filmed in Manhattan, create an anchoring counterpoint to the ‘fictionalised’ history and found news footage. This was something lacking from Jarecki’s first outing with the same subject: All Good Things. The 2010 film was a passable thriller, but without any of the heart or depth of this televised outing.
At its core, what drives us to keep watching here, is the thing that remains at the heart of any great story: conflict. Durst’s actions, Jarecki’s comprehension of the events, and ultimately our viewpoint are all conflicted, making for great viewing. We can step into Jarecki’s point of view easily. So much so, that in the final scenes I found myself playing out all kinds of scenarios facing the filmmaker. What would I do? How would I approach this meeting? (I’m not going into more detail than that for fear of creating spoilers.)
It made me wonder if, following this and Serial before it, would I be interested in watching a documentary that doesn’t in some way impact the storyteller? Is such a thing even possible?
The Jinx is available on HBO Go in the US and is currently being show on Sky Atlantic in the UK.