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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
HBO // Unrated // September 15, 2015
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted September 15, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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The Movie:

In 2010, filmmaker Andrew Jarecki made a picture called All Good Things in which Ryan Gosling played a character named David Marks. This character was, not so secretly, based on a man named Robert Durst and after All Good Things was made and came to Durst's attention, Jarecki wound up in a strange situation: he would be the first person to really extensively interview the man about his past, and about the murders that he is connected to.

Let's rewind a bit. The documentary starts off by explaining to us Robert Durst's background. He was born to the son of New York City mogul Seymour Durst in 1943 and led a somewhat privileged life. As he became an adult, however, he started to stray a bit. He met a woman in 1971, a dental hygienist named Kathie McCormack, and they were married. Instead of toiling away at the family real estate business, however, Robert opted to instead run a small health food store in Vermont. This didn't sit well with Seymour and sometimes later Robert came back to New York, his bride in tow. Nine years later and their marriage wasn't doing so well. Kathie left a party in Connecticut on a winter night in 1982 and was never seen again. Robert has insisted he put her on a train but there hasn't ever been any verification of that. Neither has there been any proof that Robert killed her.

This brings us to the case of a woman named Susan Burman. She was a longtime friend of Robert's and helped to provide an alibi of sorts. She was also someone he had sent some checks to from time to time. She was, in 2000, found murdered in California. Travel records place Durst in the state a few days before her death but can't confirm he did it. Meanwhile, Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro starts looking into all of this a little more closely. Durst winds up more or less going on the run and going into hiding. He winds up in Galveston, Texas where poses as a woman and then rents an apartment. Shortly after, his neighbor, a man named Morris Black, is found killed, his body chopped up and tossed into the bay. Durst is wanted in connection to this and then found in Pennsylvania where he's arrested for shoplifting. The cops search his car and finds guns, drugs and cash. He went to trial and got off on self-defense, though he admitted to doing what was done to the body he was never charged with murder.

There's more to it than all of this but providing a play by play of all of the little details involved in the case, which are explained quite well in The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, would kind of defeat the point of watching it. And if you've got any interest in true crime, in bizarre personalities, in how money and family connections can see that justice is in fact not served… you'll want to give this a shot. It makes for particularly gripping viewing, particularly as it heads towards its conclusion. Again, we won't spoil that here but if you were paying any attention to the news around the time that this mini-series aired on HBO, you'll remember how it all played out. It's fascinating to watch it and hear it happen on camera, even if you'll leave with some legitimate questions as to how and why HBO and Jarecki handled the big reveal the way that they did. You can and should question the ethics behind it, but you won't question the entertainment value that the series provides.

Jarceki's series does a great job of rounding up everyone willing to talk about Durst on camera. Pirro is here and she doesn't mix words, offering up her thoughts on the case in no uncertain terms. Associates of Durst are here too, as are those who knew and were close to some of his victims, his estranged missing wife being the primary subject here. Some of the cops involved with various aspects of the investigation show up on camera and talk about their experiences and there's some rather telling and interesting interactions between Jarecki and his subject used well here too. All of this is nicely cut, well put together in such a way that the series flows really well. As the details start to emerge, things get remarkably tense.

The most fascinating interviewee, however, is Robert Durst himself. It's odd that he chose to let himself be interviewed this way, but then, odd seems to be his stock and trade. While it may be unfair to base things on someone's appearance or mannerisms, he frequently looks away from the camera, blinks rapidly, and gets more than just a little twitchy when hit with some of the harder questions levied at him. At the same time, he keeps calm, doesn't lose his temper, and seems to have a strangely eerie distance from the reality he's shaped for himself

There are times where the series uses some less than perfect reenactments and there are times where the focus seems to be more on entertainment, even mild sensationalism, than traditional journalism, but when it is all said and done, this is a pretty remarkable achievement and the kind of show that, once you start it, you'll have trouble turning off.

The DVD:

Video:

This made for HBO mini-series is presented in 1.78.1 widescreen, which is how it was broadcast. The bulk of the footage for the documentary was shot on HD video and it looks quite good. The colors are lifelike and very natural looking, time was obviously taken to light the interviews and recorded footage as well as possible and the end result is quite a decent looking picture. The stock footage and archival clips vary in quality, as you'd expect them to, but most of them are in pretty good shape too. This isn't a reference quality presentation given the nature of how it was assembled but the presentation here is just fine. The discs are free of any compression issues or obvious edge enhancement and this seems a perfectly accurate representation of the source.

Sound:

The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks on the six episodes that make up this series are just fine. The dialogue is always clean, clear and easy to understand and the score is nicely mixed in alongside it, enhancing things and never burying them. Optional English subtitles are provided and a Spanish language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is also included.

Extras:

There are no extras on either of the two discs in this set, just static menus and episode selection. The two discs fit inside a keepcase that in turn fits inside a cardboard slipcover.

Final Thoughts:

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst is part investigative journalism, part documentary and part character portrait but even when it's blending all of that together it remains well focused and decidedly fascinating. True crime buffs or those with an interest in real life mysteries should appreciate all that's gone into this. Recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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