Durst is a fascinating and enigmatic subject—small, beady-eyed and raspy-voiced, he has a curiously detached way of thinking about his life, even when discussing the loss of people close to him. But it’s almost too easy to explain him away as a simple psychopath. From minute one, Jarecki digs deep into the Durst family’s gothic history, and Robert’s own feeling that he might have been “jinxed” by the darkest moment of his youth, when he witnessed his mother falling (or jumping) to her death from their roof at age seven. Durst was withdrawn and traumatized from an early age, but more than that, Jarecki seems to argue, he was followed by an almost supernaturally dark cloud from then on.
Durst married his first wife Kathleen in 1973 after a whirlwind romance; the marriage went off the tracks, he himself admits, and she went missing in 1982. Her body was never recovered. It was a tabloid firestorm, and Durst was a chief suspect, but since no body had been found the state could never build a case. Prosecutors tried again in 2000, and just before they were going to question Durst’s good friend Susan Berman about it, she was murdered in an execution-style hit in her California home; another crime Durst was suspected of but never charged with. The same year, Durst moved to Galveston, Texas, and rented an apartment dressed as a woman, seemingly trying to avoid the media spotlight. In 2001, his downstairs neighbor was shot dead and dismembered, his body parts thrown in the Gulf of Mexico; Durst was arrested, skipped bail, eventually stood trial and was acquitted after pleading self-defense.
These are the incidents Jarecki fleshes out in The Jinx, and in addition to his rigorous reporting and fact-checking, he has Durst as an interview subject. Jarecki directed a 2010 film, All Good Things, starring Ryan Gosling as a fictionalized Durst and Kirsten Dunst as his missing wife; this attracted Durst’s attention and he reached out to the filmmaker, beginning a process that by all accounts should never have started. There’s no comprehensible reason for Durst to speak on these matters at all—he's avoided conviction in three extremely suspicious cases, and with every answer he risks upsetting that careful situation. The bizarre dance he initiates with Jarecki, who remains even-handed but pointed throughout the process, is the most compelling aspect of The Jinx.
Like many a true-crime documentary, the show retains the appeal of a wide-eyed friend telling you an increasingly incredible, implausible tale. One can easily imagine the same twisty story on basic cable, and The Jinx even has some of the visual hallmarks of the kind of programming you’d see on Investigation Discovery. There are (artfully shot) re-enactments of the murders, although Durst’s face is never seen; the series’ terrific opening credits recall HBO’s serial-killer drama True Detective as much as anything else.