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‘The Jinx – Part Two’ review: A filmmaker continues his investigation into accused killer Robert Durst

Nina Metz – Chicago Tribune (TNS)

When it premiered on HBO a decade ago, the true crime docuseries “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” stood out mainly because of Durst’s willingness to appear on camera. The wealthy New York real estate heir was suspected of killing three people: His first wife Kathleen McCormack in 1982; his close friend Susan Berman in 2000; and an elderly Texas neighbor Morris Black in 2001. At the time, he had only stood trial for the murder of Black (whom he also dismembered) and was acquitted. Surprisingly, Durst agreed to be interviewed by filmmaker Andrew Jarecki about all of it. Perhaps Durst thought his steadfast denials would be convincing. But the series finale featured a stunning hot-mic moment in which Durst excused himself to the restroom and muttered the seemingly damning words: “Killed them all.”

During the course of his research for the series, Jarecki uncovered additional evidence relating to Berman’s death and passed it along to the authorities. That led to the arrest of Durst a day before the last episode aired.

Now Jarecki is back with “The Jinx – Part Two,” which picks up where he left off. In 2021, Durst was convicted of Berman’s murder and the six-episode sequel aims to fill in the gaps between the lead-up to his arrest in March 2015 and his death in January 2022 (just three months after he was sentenced to life without parole). Jarecki accomplishes this by piecing together prosecutor John Lewin’s case and detailing the zigs and zags of the trial itself.

Purveyors of true crime can be fueled by all kinds of conflicting motivations. Sincere curiosity sometimes curdles into exploitation, and gruesome tragedy is transformed into entertainment. With unsolved cases, there’s a tendency to play investigator. Jarecki isn’t immune to any of this. But notably missing in his latest effort is introspection about his own role in Durst’s fate.

“Part Two” is straightforward about the fact that Jarecki reached out to law enforcement — an unusual scenario for documentary filmmakers — but he remains silent about why he made that decision. You could argue it was the right one, but he doesn’t walk us through his thought process. Why be so coy? “Normally, your obligation is to protect your subject,” he told Vanity Fair in a recent interview. “But what happens when your subject becomes the enemy?” Good question. Too bad he had no desire to engage with it in his own project.

Despite its self-congratulatory tone, Jarecki’s follow-up is gripping all the same. It includes the same out-of-focus recreations as the original, which serves to amplify the visuals beyond talking head interviews and archival footage and photos. Durst had regular visitors in jail and Jarecki obtained recordings of those visits as well as Durst’s phone calls, and we see a man who is mentally sharp but manipulative and deeply annoying. Journalist Lisa DePaulo tells Jarecki: “When Bob has a friend, he expects blind loyalty. Like, unconditional loyalty. He expected his friends to toe the line, and a lot of them did — for a long time.” Lewin, the prosecutor, explains it this way: “It turns out that when you have a whole lot of money, people are willing to do things for you because they think some of that money might go their way.”

One of those close friends is Nick Chavin, a singer-turned-advertising executive whose music genre of choice in his younger days was something called “country porn.” Jarecki asks him, “Did it bother you when you found out what (Durst) did in Galveston?” Chavin replies: “Well, what isn’t in my mind is ‘Jesus Christ, he cut up Morris Black and got away with it.’ That just didn’t have any impact on me. I don’t have that same moral hatred of murder and murderers.” If that doesn’t give you pause, I don’t know what will. By contrast, Chavin’s wife is no-nonsense and blunt about her distaste for Durst. How that marriage works is a mystery all its own. If nothing else, Jarecki has a knack for unearthing the strange and uninhibited.

The cast of characters here also include enthusiastic twin brother law clerks hired by Lewin to sift through the endless paperwork (if a broadcast network doesn’t turn this premise into a case-of-the-week legal drama called “Brothers in Law,” they’re missing a real opportunity). “Friendships die hard,” someone else says at one point, and it’s the kind of observation that has so many different connotations in this context. All of this is captured thanks to Jarecki’s instincts. Even though we know the outcome, he finds room for suspense and intrigue.

A deeply serious filmmaker, he also tends to undercut that with questionable choices, including a vainglorious quote from a cop who boasts: “Homicide detectives have a saying: We work for God.” As a documentarian, Jarecki brings no skepticism to police work, or any other aspect of how the criminal justice system functions.

Why do people do such horrible things to one another? Who is often allowed to get away with these crimes and why? Compelling enough questions that we keep coming back for more.

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‘THE JINX – PART TWO’

2.5 stars (out of 4)

Rating: TV-MA

How to watch: 10 p.m. ET Sundays on HBO (streaming on Max)

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©2024 Chicago Tribune. Visit chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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