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The true crime genre hits a new high with HBO's The Jinx


Robert Durst is at center of Manhattan Murder Mystery and others. HBO photo

Premiering: Sunday, Feb. 8th at 7 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Robert Durst and numerous real-life accusers and defenders
Produced by: Andrew Jarecki, Marc Smerling

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Can true crime trump even True Detective?

When it’s told this compellingly, you can make a very strong case.

HBO’s Season 2 of True Detective is due sometime this summer. In the meantime, the network’s The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst serves as far more than a like-minded placeholder.

Premiering on Sunday, Feb. 8th at 7 p.m. (central) and continuing through March 15th, this is a spellbinding, six-part docu-investigation of three unsolved murders that many believe were committed by none other than Durst. They range from the 1982 disappearance of his wife, Kathie, whose body has never been found, to the 2001 discovery of a dismembered corpse in Galveston Bay, Texas.

Durst, now 71, is the pro-active centerpiece of this film by Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling, who previously collaborated on 2003’s acclaimed Capturing the Friedmans. Shortly before the release of their 2010 feature film, All Good Things, Jarecki was contacted by Durst, on whose life the movie is based. After seeing it, he volunteered to be interviewed at length by Jarecki, with no restrictions on questions.

“I will be able to tell it my way,” he tells Jarecki at the outset of Chapter 2. But first the set-up.

Chapter 1, subtitled “Body in the Bay,” begins with the discovery of a torso and then other body parts afloat in plastic trash bags. The victim turns out to be 71-year-old Morris Black. A bizarre trail of evidence leads police to finger Robert Durst as the perpetrator. But he’s caught only after trying to steal a hoagie at a Pennsylvania convenience store despite having ample cash to pay for it.

Durst isn’t just any old suspect. He’s part of the ultra-wealthy, property-coveting Dursts of Manhattan. But Robert was a reluctant participant in the family business run by his late father, Seymour. It eventually reached the point where his younger brother, Douglas, hired a bodyguard to protect him from Robert. Asked in an earlier inquiry why Douglas took this measure, Robert replies, “‘Cause he’s a pussy.”

The filmmakers meticulously interview or uncover police tapes of all the key surviving participants in this bizarre web of intrigue. Among them are Durst’s salty current wife, Debrah Lee Charatan, and quotable Galveston detective Cody Cazalas. He’s come to believe that Durst doesn’t enjoy dealing out death, but “if you threaten his freedom, he’ll kill ya.” These are the closing words of Sunday’s premiere, which runs about 45 minutes.

The present-day Durst interviews, which begin in Episode 2, are somewhat reminiscent of the initial vivid impression made by Matthew McConaughey as detective Rust Cohle in True Detective. Durst’s answers are blunt but non-evasive. He delivers them in a sandpaper voice often punctuated by eye twitches. So far he’s not as cosmic as McConaughey’s Cohle. But both command a viewer’s full attention.

The “Jinx” part of the film’s title comes from Durst confirming that he made his first wife, Kathie, undergo an abortion after they had agreed not to have children.

“You keep the baby, you’re going to get divorced from me. Period,” he recalls telling her. “Somehow I thought it would be a jinx.’

“That you might be a jinx for them?” Jarecki asks, referring to any children fathered by Durst.

“Yeah,” he replies. “I knew I wasn’t going to be a good father.”

HBO sent only two of the six chapters for review. Neither gets into any details on how Durst beat the rap in Galveston. But Chapter 2 includes comments from one of his star Texas attorneys, Dick DeGuerin, who seems to be very much at peace with Durst still being a free man.

These early chapters also are mum on the unsolved 2000 murder of Susan Berman, who’s believed to have run afoul of Durst as a key witness in the investigation of his missing first wife. All in good time, apparently, because there’s no reason to believe the filmmakers won’t delve into every nook and cranny of these cases before viewers are left to render their own verdicts.

Intercut with brief, unobtrusive reenactments and accompanied by a dangerous-sounding music track, The Jinx very much looks like a masterwork of the true crime genre. Its first two chapters establish an iron grip. The final four can’t come fast enough.


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