An edge-of-your-seat, addictive documentary series, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst examines the life of the reclusive millionaire at the heart of three killings spanning four decades. Robert Durst, the scion of a New York real estate empire, has long been a suspect in the notorious 1982 disappearance of his wife, Kathie. Further suspicion was raised with the unsolved killing of his best friend, Susan Berman, thought to be a key witness in the investigation into Kathie's disappearance in 2000, as well as the subsequent killing and dismemberment of a neighbor in Galveston, Texas. Durst has consistently maintained his innocence, but throughout the film, new evidence is uncovered that may link Durst to one of the murders. He was arrested in New Orleans in March and charged with Berman's murder in Los Angeles.
In the winter of 1982, the wife of millionaire real estate heir Robert Durst disappeared without a trace. Although suspected of the crime, Durst was never charged. Then, in 2000, a close friend of Durst was found murdered in her California home. Once again, evidence pointed toward Durst, but an arrest was never made. Then, less than a year later, a dismembered body was found floating in a bay in Galveston, Texas. Shortly after an investigation into that death began, it was discovered that the person living in an apartment next to him was none other than Robert Durst.
In 2010, Director Andrew Jarecki released the film All Good Things, which was based on the alleged Durst murders. Although the characters' names were changed, everyone knew the film was about Durst, including Durst himself – who contacted Jarecki with a proposition: a sit-down interview with him, so he could tell the 'real story.' One interview turned into several, and this six-part documentary, 'The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst', is the result of Jarecki's contact with Durst and his own investigation into the murders.
'The Jinx' spends most of its first episode (of six total) talking about the most-recent death that Durst is accused of and – at the time of this writing – the only one he's actually gone on trial for: the murder of Morris Black, whose body was found chopped up into pieces and put inside garbage bags (Black's head never was recovered). Thanks in large part to hiring a couple of the best defense attorneys money can buy, an admission from Durst that he disposed of the body but that the death of Black was self-defense on his part, and a lack of strong forensic evidence, Durst was acquitted of the charges.
This, of course, is not the first documentary to focus on a suspected murderer who may have gotten away with it. It is, however, one of the few times I can think of where the accused is not only willingly interviewed on camera, but actually the driving force in how things proceed. Durst definitely comes off as a bit of an enigma – the type who seems straightforward and honest if you talk to him for five minutes, a little peculiar and odd after 10 minutes, and making you want to scream for the police to get him before he turns you into his next victim after a lengthy conversation. He also, either knowingly or unknowingly (who can tell?), talks to himself out loud, revealing secrets that he may or may not want to be known about him (and the one that he lets loose at the very end of the final episode is a doozy).
It's Durst's own loose lips that cause Director Jarecki to do a little snooping of his own, uncovering evidence that one would think investigators would have come across years ago. When Jarecki and his documentary team find some handwritten evidence that seems to almost certainly link Durst to the 2000 California murder, the director decides he's going to spring it on him during an interview. It's this segment that wraps up 'The Jinx', and it also seems to be an event that led to the real-life arrest of Durst for that crime (which happened on the day the final episode aired, although the authorities in California insist it was a result of their own internal work).
'The Jinx' got a few smatterings of criticism for manipulating some of the timeline of events that take place in order to provide a more powerful final episode, as well as some backlash over the way it handled its reenactments (not only for the way Jarecki seems to show crimes happen over and over again, as if he's relishing in them, but the way he uses them to steer viewers to his opinion of Durst's guilt – something, frankly, that Durst's manages to do without the director's help). But even with those faults in mind, there's no denying that 'The Jinx' is powerful documentary filmmaking and engaging TV viewing. If you're a true crime or real-life mystery fan, this is must-see viewing.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Jinx' arrives on Blu-ray in an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, which houses a pair of 50GB Blu-ray discs, along with an insert for an UltraViolet digital copy of this documentary series. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase slides overtop.
There are no front-loaded trailers on either disc, each of which contains three entries of this six-part series. The main menu consists of the still image of Robert Durst on the boxcover, with menu selections on the left side of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
As you might suspect for a documentary series such as this, 'The Jinx' is a combination of new interview footage, recreations of events, and archival video and photographic stills – both in color and black and white. So the quality of the image is all over the place, depending on what is being shown, but the new material (shot digitally) is nicely sharp and mostly detailed, and viewers get a decent enough transfer here from HBO Home Entertainment.
There are also no major issues when it comes to glitches. Obviously, some of the archival video footage (trial footage and older interviews) are rough looking, and some of the nighttime digital shots suffer from a bit of noise, but there's nothing here that one wouldn't expect in a documentary of this nature, and no noticeable glitches with the actual transfer onto Blu-ray (like banding, aliasing, or haloing).
HBO has given each of the six episodes here an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, which – as you can probably guess – goes above and beyond the call of duty for what a documentary like this one probably needs. This is primarily a 'talking heads' presentation with some reenactment footage peppered in, so the track – while free of any technical glitches – never really gets a chance to shine, with one notable exception: the opening credits of each episode feature the song 'Fresh Blood' by Eels, and that's when the track really springs to life, and viewers will appreciate the 5.1 DTS-MA as they hear the werewolf howling of Eels frontman 'E' (real name: Mark Oliver Everett).
In addition to the English lossless track, a Spanish 2.0 DTS Digital Surround track is also available for each of the episodes. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
It seems as if Robert Durst got to the bonus features first, as none appear on this release. Yes, despite all the critical raves and public attention this series got when it aired on HBO, there are no extras whatsoever. That's a shame, since there seems to have been a missed opportunity here to include deleted footage, an update on Durst, and maybe a director's commentary track on an episode or two.
There have been a lot of compelling 'true crime' documentaries over the years, but I can't remember one as engaging as 'The Jinx'. A large part of its appeal is that the accused not only participates in the doc, but he's actually the whole reason the series exists in the first place. Sadly, HBO – for whatever reason – had opted for a bare-bones release here, despite all the critical acclaim. That keeps this release from being a must-buy, but doesn't keep it from being recommended.