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'The Jinx' miniseries: The unluckiest man in the world, or a serial killer?

Grant Pearsall
Staff Writer

Right about now the cinephiles and tv-geeks are awash in the annual programming monsoon—summer blockbusters, returning hit premium-cable television shows, streaming-only, critically lauded superhero programming and the finale to Emmy award-winning network television series. Coming part-in-parcel with this is the friendship-circle/water-cooler conversations, both online and in the flesh.

Whatever your taste, whatever your conversations are, they need to involve “The Jinx” immediately, as it is unquestionably the finest piece of media this year and is landmark television programming that demands close viewing and thorough discussion.

The series revolves around the disappearance of Robert Durst's wife Kathleen McCormick Durst and the murder of his friend, Susan Berman. (Photo courtesy of sundance.org)
The series investigates the disappearance of Robert Durst’s wife Kathleen McCormack Durst and the murder of his friend, Susan Berman. (Photo courtesy of sundance.org)

“The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” is a documentary mini-series produced by HBO and written/directed by Academy Award-nominated documentarian Andrew Jarecki. The show spans six 45 minute episodes, or roughly four and half hours. The run-time is important to note, as viewers will undoubtedly feel compelled to consume the entire series in one or two sittings. This is not so much a preference as it becomes a compulsory act—it is a work that demands completion once begun. Its a lot like inhaling an entire can of Pringles in one go. You will be sans about a thousand calories, but up in shock and horror by a tenfold.

The subject matter of Jarecki’s series will be a revelation to most viewers. In the most brief sense the show is a true-crime documentary that spends much time investigating a series of alleged crimes, and provides the primary subject, Robert Durst, a chance to tell his side of an ugly and deeply troubling story.

Durst as an interview subject is spellbinding. It is impossible to not be rapt with attention whenever he speaks, his papery-thin voice accompanied by curious facial tics, his words strangely stilted and sibilant. Jarecki inserts himself into the documentary as the primary on-screen interviewer of Durst, the situation playing off as a modern-day Frost/Nixon event, with the stakes (incredibly) escalated far beyond that of presidential malfeasance. The remainder of the series is threaded through with talking-head-style interviews, and slickly produced reenactments providing context, and often, narrative clues. The package is airtight from start to finish.

Discussing “The Jinx” in a critical-review context is a fool’s errand. So much of what makes the mini-series so absurdly engrossing is the mysterious subject matter itself. The success of Jarecki’s work here hinges on the audience wilfully ignoring the real-life subject matter that is currently swirling around the work. This is doubly true in the wake of the series having finished its initial premiere on HBO (now available through on-demand or cable reruns exclusively), as newsworthy events have followed the finale episode, perhaps even as a consequence. Any further information given can only harm a viewer’s enjoyment of a narrative that works best as a nigh-inscrutable mystery.

The final moments of “The Jinx” are some of the most stressful, exciting and emotionally-disturbing ever recorded in a documentary context. It is a literally jaw-dropping moment that is unlikely to be replicated ever again. Jarecki could hang up his documentary-making hat tomorrow and still be remembered as a legend of the format for a long, long time to come.

Resist the urge to Google the words “The Jinx.” Do not read think-pieces about it at your favorite website. Do not investigate who Robert Durst is, or what has occurred in the wake of the show’s premiere. Come to this work as a blank slate, and revel in a moment that is a nexus of high-quality film production, investigative journalistic rigor, uniquely disturbing subject matter and a cultural moment. The rest of the quality television and films of this time and place be damned. Go watch “The Jinx” and let the real conversation begin.

Grade: [A+]