by Allan Fish
(USA 2015 280m) DVD1
Be careful what you step in
p Marc Smerling, Andrew Jarecki d Andrew Jarecki w Andrew Jarecki, Marc Sterling, Zachary Stuart-Pontier ph Marc Smerling ed Zachary Stuart-Pontier m West Dylan Thordson, John Kusiak
Captain Blackadder, arraigned for the murder of a delicious, plump-breasted pigeon called Speckled Jim, sends a message with a plea for help from one Bob Massingbird QC, the greatest lawyer in all England. The Captain recalled Massingbird’s most famous case, the Case of the Bloody Knife; “a man was found next to a murdered body. He had the knife in his hand. Thirteen witnesses had seen him stab the victim. And when the police arrived, he said ‘I’m glad I killed the bastard!’ Massingbird not only got him off, he got him knighted in the New Year’s Honours List and the relatives of the victim had to pay to wash the blood out of his jacket.”
So much for comedy, for that wouldn’t really happen, would it? Well, that would depend on your remaining belief in the legal system. Then contextualise it; this was a murder committed less than a month after 9/11 in the state of then President George W.Bush. This is dear old Texas, where finding anyone in your home can justify either blowing their brains out, putting them in a wood chipper or roasting them slowly on a spit. In this case, one Robert Durst, heir to a multi-million Manhattan property estate, was accused of the murder of a 71 year old neighbour. After making a $250,000 bail, he went on the run, in disguise, got caught in what can only be described as a farce and his defence team plead self-defence but admit that he cut the body up. It would seem that, according to tradition, if you live in Texas, murderers must always be acquitted and the mere matter of admitting to the dismemberment was not enough to convict.
All of this would be frightening enough to make on wonder why the other 49 states hadn’t demanded Texas secede from the Union. But there’s more, for the name of Robert Durst may be familiar to moviegoers as the cold, deadly protagonist in Andrew Jarecki’s 2010 film All Good Things, about a real estate magnate’s son who is accused of killing his wife. It wasn’t really a very good film; almost managing to be more distant than its subject and even good work by Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst couldn’t save it. Durst’s wife’s body was never discovered. In addition, Durst is a major suspect in yet another murder, in Los Angeles, of a woman who was once his closest friend.
So three murders, in one of which the accused admits cutting up the body, and yet still he walks the streets. You’d think it couldn’t get more bizarre, but it does; Durst contacts Jarecki to offer an interview and Jarecki and the result built around it, in a style recalling Errol Morris, is The Jinx. Over six episodes Jarecki weaves a spell around his subject which is intoxicating, but at the same time unsettling. One begins to question not only the motives of Durst, but of many of those interviewed, including a jury member who tries to justify their ridiculous decision. A witness recalls their concern about the jury laughing at Durst’s testimony not in derision but with seemingly genuine humour. Yet we, too, are laughing; gallows humour maybe, but laughter nonetheless, for, while chilling, there is something faintly ludicrous about Durst, with his voice like a slightly higher pitched Droopy.
One can argue that Jarecki’s piece does border on the sensationalist and is rather manipulative, and certainly the final episode is very problematic in many ways, not least that the film does, for all its honest motives, become a trial by and in camera with a fade out to make Michael Snow smile. Yet more worrying is the candour with which lawyers discuss how they tactically aimed to get Durst off and endorse a legal system where it really is one rule for the rich and one for the poor, enough to make those who made Henry II’s quest for the Common Law in the 12th century rise from their graves in anger. Is this really the world we have created for ourselves? The worst indictment is the admittance that of course it is; how could we possibly be so naïve as to expect justice?