Third time unlucky

Kate Johnstone reviews The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (Sky Atlantic).

The 2010 film All Good Things (available on DVD) came and went without anyone much noticing. Despite the star power of Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst, viewers did not engage with the fictionalised story of a multi-millionaire property investor’s involvement in the disappearance of his wife, and murder of a neighbour. Now that film’s director, Andrew Jarecki, has ditched the fiction and returned to the same subject in the six-part series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (Sky Atlantic). This time he has a winner on his hands.

It seems unlikely that the series would have been made if Durst hadn’t put himself forward for interview. He tells Jarecki his lawyers have advised him against it. No wonder. Durst’s life story is genuinely stranger than fiction. The series examines his life largely in chronological order, from childhood onwards. Jarecki gains interviews with most of the key players, with a few notable exceptions. The more we hear about Durst, and the more we see of him on camera, the stranger he seems. On occasions, he seems to find human interaction alien; at others, anything but. How far can his behaviour be accounted for by undoubtedly traumatic childhood events, and the freedoms available to those who have unlimited wealth? Is he all cold calculation, or is Durst a stranger even to himself?

At times, Jarecki can’t resist making his points more forcefully than evidence will allow, and he dramatises certain key moments. Sometimes these are effective – in one scene we see Durst’s wife Kathie board the Manhattan-bound train alone late at night (as Durst has maintained she did one night in January 1982). The next time we see this scene, no-one gets on and the train doors whoosh shut with a brutal finality. Occasionally these dramatizations seem voyeuristic, and veer too close to entertainment for comfort. But we are gradually presented with an accumulation of evidence that seem to lead to only one conclusion.

The series has been compared to the podcast Serial, which followed a journalist’s investigation of a murder and the possible unsafe conviction of Adnan Syed. But the similarity is only skin deep. The Jinx is on a whole different scale than the more homespun Serial, and needs to be: the lives of many people have been irrevocably changed by Robert Durst.

Spoiler alert: don’t Google if you want maximum enjoyment. There are at least three genuine jaw-dropping moments, the final one of which was widely reported. The last scene leaves the viewer reeling. And it’s a certainty that we will be seeing Durst on our screens again, one way or another.

- Reviewed by Kate Johnstone, who is a postgraduate at University College London.

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