Five years ago a true crime film named All Good Things briefly appeared. Starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst, the film told the story of Robert Durst, scion of a wealthy real estate family, whose wife Kathie went missing in mysterious circumstances in the early '80s.
All Good Things cost US$20 million to make and recouped less than a million after a messy release schedule and middling reviews. In its aftermath the director was contacted by Durst, who agreed to be interviewed on camera about his murky criminal past for the first time.
What was initially meant to be a DVD extra blew out into a meticulously researched six-part HBO documentary about the life and loose ends of Durst. The disappearance of Kathie was merely the first baffling crime connected to this man.
It's the most recent which becomes the chief concern of
On October 9, 2001, he was arrested for a gruesome murder committed in the dusty, end-of-the-line town of Galveston, Texas. The victim, Morris Black, had been a neighbour of Durst and was shot, dismembered and dumped in the sea. Durst had been living as a woman in a dishevelled house thousands of miles from the wealth and influence of his family's Manhattan empire, and neither his nor the police's explanations for the crime make a lot of sense. Durst's life abounds with inexplicable wrinkles, and the beauty of
is that it has both the time and the resource to try to unravel them.
Director Andrew Jarecki has a history in documenting odd specimens - he directed Capturing the Friedmans and produced Catfish - but
is something else again. It's one of the most perfect pieces of television I've seen in a while: atmospheric, thorough and, despite its location in the recent past, incredibly tense.
The tension is built through Jarecki's sculptural approach, revealing information with both a scalpel and an axe. A second murder, of a potential witness, arrives in particularly unprepossessing style. The victim's introduced as just another sad character wandering in the mist which surrounds Durst. Then, quite suddenly, they're executed at home, with a note sent to police, directing them to the body.
The series, playing on Sky's SoHo (Sunday, 8.30pm), feels fresh in a way that grandiose event drama like Game of Thrones or House of Cards, parading violence and increasingly soapy twists, has started to feel a little too familiar. The Jinx is very contained, tethered to real people and events, and told using a variety of well-deployed pieces of evidence, including court documents, old news reports, phone records, family photographs and interviews both recent and historic.
But no matter how many tearful cops, forlorn mothers or spellbinding Southern lawyers we meet, no presence can compete with Durst himself. It starts with his coal-black eyes, continues through an array of baffling twitches and vocal mannerisms and ends with the unreadable conviction of his speech.
On Sunday's fourth episode, during a break in the interview process, he starts muttering to himself. "I did not knowingly purposely lie," he whispers, unaware the tape's still rolling. "I did not knowingly intentionally purposely lie."
It feels like a peek into the mind of this terrifying yet pitiable man, who sits at the centre of all this violence and intrigue while somehow remaining calm and entirely inscrutable. The show presents as a portrait of psychological disintegration - of the way limitless money and a lingering trauma created a modern American monster.
The Jinx, despite its somewhat old-fashioned elements of pulpy true crime salaciousness and noir style, has been a smash hit in the US. No doubt dozens of imitators are currently being greenlit.
So long as they're as thorough and compelling as The Jinx I have no problem at all with that.
* What do you think of The Jinx? Post your comments below.