The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst full movie review - A swing and a miss
First of all, I, precisely like you, have no idea if Robert Durst is guilty or not.
As a big fan of documentaries I am of the view that no documentary is or can be neutral or objective. In fact, some of the best documentaries, in my view, are thesis driven ones with a strong point of view. Andrew Jarecki made such a documentary twelve years ago, Capturing the Friedmans, which is one of the most fascinating documentaries I've ever seen. But the risk with making such a documentary is that you may cross the line and it becomes a hatchet job. My view is that Jarecki crossed that line in The Jinx. It is clear that Jarecki swings for the fences, but this time he comes up short. And I have to say that there is something quite unsettling about the style in which he made this documentary.
It features a lot of talking heads. Jarecki manages to come up with exactly one person, not counting Durst's former lawyers, who isn't outright hostile towards Durst. Over and over again they call Durst, who at that point hasn't been charged with and convicted of with anything in connection with the disappearance of Kathie Durst and death of Susan Berman, a "murderer". Having watched this series for the second time now, I can't think of an instance where Jarecki asks even one single critical question to these people. Which is problematic since he has long since crossed the line from documentarian into something else completely. In episode 2 Jarecki jokes with Kathie Durst's friends that they in search for answers "have become junior detectives". Well, this is also an apt description of Jarecki's role. It's blatantly obvious that he from the start of the documentary is out to get Durst. Maybe that wasn't the intention when he started filming, but it's certainly clear in the editing of the episodes that Jarecki is building a case against Durst, most evident in the last episode where they prepare the interrogation ("interview" is not the correct word) of Durst.
Too bad for Jarecki that his case is quite weak. No "proof" is too small to be included in the show. For instance the ridiculous argument that only someone with medical knowledge would use the word "cadaver". And since Durst's disappeared wife was a medical student where they use cadavers for training purposes, Durst must obviously be the person who wrote the "cadaver letter". QED. Or, you know, someone with a larger vocabulary than a middle school student.
And the intended coup de grace, Durst's bathroom "confession" in the last minutes of the series, is a dud. Having worked in this business for quite some time, I for one don't buy for a single second that the filmmakers were unaware of Durst's "confession", discovering it in editing one or two years later as they claim. First of all, they kept the microphone on Durst after the interview was done. Secondly, there is no reason for the camera which is recording the audio to still be running after they wrap up, turn off the lights etc. Given that Durst was seen talking into his microphone being unaware that they were recording earlier in the series, it's quite clear that the filmmakers were keeping their fingers crossed for something like that to happen again. And bingo. Or so they thought. You don't have to be Johnnie Cochran or a John Grisham protagonist to make the argument that he was talking sarcastically, or playing out scenarios in his head of what other people might say about him. Exhibit A: The Jinx, where Durst does so several times.
There are plenty of armchair amateur psychologists writing about Durst, not at least on the IMDb boards. He has "dead eyes" like "a shark", which if course is proof of him being a sociopath or psychopath. His blinking is "a tell that he is covering up his lies", a "technique taught to CIA and spies all over the world to beat 'the lie detector' and interrogators" no less. And as we all know, burping is the true mark of a killer. Again, I have no idea of Robert Durst is guilty or not, but unlike the junior PI's on the IMDb boards I have seen people with tics before. One of my best friends has Tourettes, and his blinking tics are very similar to Durst's. And using someone's "dead" or "black" eyes as some sort of proof of guilt, you might as well be using phrenology which is of equal validity.
One other thing that is unsettling is the impeccable timing of Durst's arrest which took place on the evening before the final episode aired, prompting the question of whether there has been a conflation between criminal investigation and documentary filmmaking. That has been done before, and very successfully at that. The Thin Blue Line and Serial are two examples on the top of my head. The difference however between those two shows and The Jinx is that the former two aimed at exonerating someone of a crime, or at least casting a shadow of reasonable doubt, while the latter tries to prove that someone is guilty, and if you want to do that you better make sure you have an almost iron-clad case which The Jinx is far from being. With great accusations come great responsibility, to paraphrase a well-known superhero.