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HBO's The Jinx is a riveting true crime documentary you have to watch

Robert Durst.
Robert Durst.

You need to watch: HBO's new documentary series The Jinx

What is it: The Jinx tells the story of Robert Durst, the mysterious man with a connection to three crimes: two murders, and one disappearance (which many assume to be a third murder). The only crime for which Durst was charged was the 2001 dismemberment — as in, he sawed the guy up into pieces — of Morris Black, in Galveston, Texas. Interestingly, he was acquitted after arguing that chopping up his neighbor's body with a saw was an act of self-defense.



What's even more interesting about Durst — and certainly this is the biggest (only?) reason the media has paid him any attention — is that his pockets are incredibly deep. Durst belongs to the family of Seymour Durst, the New York City real estate mogul, whose organization owns nine crazy expensive properties in New York, including 4 Times Square. While that kind of money doesn't necessarily buy not guilty verdicts, it certainly is capable of complicating the integrity of a trial. After all, celebrity attorneys seem to be much more powerful than publicly appointed defendants.

Why you should watch: This is not your average televised crime story. Sure, there's a certain whodunit sensibility here, but by the end of the first episode, you'll realize The Jinx isn't looking to solve a crime so much as complicate a criminal.

Much of that is owed to Andrew Jarecki, the talented filmmaker behind the project, whose 2010 film All Good Things was a fictitious exploration of the mysterious disappearance of Durst's wife. But if that film sacrificed nuance for pace — which is often necessary to further a script — The Jinx more than makes up for it. It is now very apparent that Jarecki understands that the best way to tell the Durst story is to untell it.

What does the name "Robert Durst" mean to the world? What are the narratives the public has bought into about Durst for the past several decades? What feelings are provoked within them when they see his face, or hear his gravelly voice? Jarecki spends the entire first episode confirming what we all know — Durst is not a terribly good person and perhaps even outright evil — before gently withering away our self-certain narratives from the inside out.

Complicating the villainy of a villain, even and especially when he seems so obviously irredeemable, is a powerful challenge in a media environment often bereft of empathy. It's also a challenge to us, the viewer, who prefer our villains simple and our anger pure. You might not change your mind on Durst, but you'll be forced to listen to him. That's the point.

You'll know if you're in or out by … OK, look. You will not be hooked from the word go. The series opens quietly, calmly. The first scene is about an officer discovering a limbless torso in the water, but even this — horrifying as it is! — is presented without any fanfare, almost mutely, narrated with the same detached casualness with which one would recall her last conversation with her mailman.

But as time passes, and connections are made, the tension slowly rises until it reaches its climax in the most haunting scene of the first episode: a long, slow-motion capture of the jumpsuit-clad accused, surrounded by guards and television cameras, making his way to stand trial. As the tribal-sounding drum score builds, Durst stares into the camera, his black, darting eyes daring us not to believe him.

At this point, you will be hooked. You will want to know his story. And you will be convinced that, regardless of how obviously guilty he seems to be, what he wants to tell you will be worth your time.

When is it on: The six-part documentary premieres tonight at 8 Eastern on HBO. Alternately, the series is available on HBO Go, which you should have access to if you are an HBO subscriber.

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