Recently we spoke of our joy at the announcement of a second series of Serial and looked at how effectively Serial had rejuvenated the podcast medium. Well, Curated Towers has been gripped by a new phenomenon: HBO’s The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.
Admittedly, we are a little late to the party, but they do say that it’s better to be late than never show up at all, right?
The series revolves around a host of murders connected with Robert Durst, a New York real estate mogul. Put together by director Andrew Jarecki for HBO, The Jinx sees Durst discuss the unsolved disappearance of his wife Kathie in 1982 and the killing of writer Susan Berman in 2000. The mini-series also looks at the murder of his neighbour, for which Durst was tried and acquitted.
Using security and media footage, reconstructions and police evidence, The Jinx analyses the investigations into the murders and the unsuccessful case against Durst. The six-part mini-series also involves a series of interviews with the millionaire, who was a suspect in all the killings, quizzing him on his whereabouts during the time, his erratic behaviour following the deaths and his thoughts about the incidents.
The filmmakers also interview numerous police officials, former investigators and friends of the victims, with one famously saying that victim Susan Berman once told her: “If I ever go missing, contact Bob because he did it.” Conversely, evidence is given by others stating that Durst is simply unlucky and that he never committed any crime.
The success, and indeed beauty of The Jinx, is that although we do not know throughout the series whether Durst killed his wife or the writer, we do know that he is capable of taking a life. In 2001, Durst admitted to killing his neighbour Morris Black in Galveston, Texas, in self-defence.
Viewers are also informed of the strange behaviour of Durst throughout the murder investigations, with him skipping bail, disguising himself as a mute woman in order to evade detection and shoplifting goods despite having $300 cash on his person. It is these mixed signs that keep the viewer guessing about the man in question until the final minutes. Thankfully, however, unlike Serial, The Jinx does have a definitive answer regarding Durst’s involvement in the crime that is revealed in the most staggering of ways at the end of the mini-series.
Staggeringly, the idea to conduct such a show was not that of the filmmaker, but Durst himself, who wanted to make a series of interviews proving his innocence, against the advice of his solicitors. While the initial interviews are simply providing Durst with the opportunity to clear his name, it is the final few interviews that everything we know and have been told thus far is questioned.
During the course of the series, the filmmakers analyse issues surrounding the initial investigations and unusual incidents concerning the victims and their murders. For example, Durst had sent Susan Berman $50,000 prior to her death. An anonymous letter sent to the police station from Miss Berman’s killer was also handed to the crew while they investigated the case, indicating that Mr Durst could indeed be the killer.
The most staggering piece of evidence is revealed in the final three minutes of the series, giving viewers full closure, but shocking them none the less.
Although we don’t want to give any spoilers to an astonishing finale, The Jinx provides the perfect blend of journalism and storytelling whilst investigating a legal case. Similarly to Serial, it highlights how invested viewers can become in a real life case, especially if they believe there has been a miscarriage of justice. The miniseries has gained international recognition and has arguably changed the way television criminal documentaries are made. While The Jinx received some criticism for it’s “drama rather than cutting to the chase” style, it proved to be an effective way of highlighting criminal injustice and an opportunity for investigating cold cases.
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