April 21, 2015

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst

Andrew Jarecki, 2015
Andrew Jarecki is a filmmaker who isn’t afraid to venture into the darkness. He doesn't appear to be affected by the fact that you may be disturbed by his work, perhaps even put off. His 2003 documentary Capturing the Friedmans captures the unraveling of the Friedman family whose patriarch is charged with child molestation. He has a unique vision in the way that he approaches the Friedman family. He doesn't just lay out an indictment on a family accused of some of the worst acts you can be accused of. He lets you decide for yourself. With his HBO docu-series The Jinx, it’s not much different. Many of us, probably mostly Northeast Americans, are familiar with the Durst family. Most of us have at least heard of Robert Durst, wealthy eccentric man who is accused of slaying his wife and possibly others. We often convict public figures subconsciously, sometimes simply based on appearance. Sometimes people look guilty. Sometimes people look creepy. Durst is certainly a suspicious figure. He doesn't express emotion. He doesn't smile, he doesn't kid around. He doesn't appear to show a longing for his missing wife.

Jarecki has already explored the Durst family in his 2010 feature film All Good Things, starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. The film is very much based on the real life events surrounding the Durst family. That film, while okay, was clearly not the right vessel for Jarecki whose strengths are really apparent in the documentary realm. But the one thing the film did is land him his interview with the real life Durst who saw the film and felt it gave him fair treatment. This is probably the opportunity of Jarecki's career, and this documentary series will certainly be the most talked about piece of work of his for years to come.

The series explores the insulation of wealth. It examines class structure in our country. It's a study on our imperfect judicial system which sometimes doesn't get it right. Episode one grips you, episode 4 shocks you. Episode 6 has you on the edge of your seat with your jaw dropped. You have to sit there and spend some time with this enigma of a person. Jarecki took a controversial mystery and put his artistic touch on it. Recreation of crime scenes, interviews with frustrated friends and family members, ex-police officers and investigators. He does some true investigative work. He can be accused of being predatory and baiting, but he also needs to be credited with giving Robert more of a benefit of a doubt than most filmmakers would be willing to do. He also is in front of the camera quite a bit, at times very uncomfortably. Confronting Douglas Durst and asking for an interview on the night of a big dedication dinner is a ballsy move. It’s almost like walking into Trump Tower and interrupting the Donald’s dinner and asking for a job. Even the interviewing process with Robert must be an uncomfortable one. The tension spills off the screen. Even if you are already aware of the outcome of the series from what you have seen in the headlines, it’s still worth the complete viewing. Your jaw will drop. Your eyes will be open wide.

This series broke some new ground. Instead of someone like Michael Moore placing pieces in an order that fits his ideology, Jarecki does some real investigative work that spans several years. The headlines and the finale are a little conveniently timed, there must have been some behind-the-scenes orchestration and collusion. It’s hard to debate that Jarecki ambushes Durst in the end for some self-serving reasons, but he had to do it right? And when all is said and done, we need to remember that at the very foundation of all of this is a medium of entertainment. And the trade off is closure for some of the family and friends of the victims. So a cold case finally gets some real answers. And that is worth it, right?

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