In 2001, a Texas teenager found a dismembered torso in the Galveston Bay. The subsequent investigation became one of the most enigmatic cases in United States history. This is how HBO’s documentary miniseries “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” begins. At the start, director Andrew Jarecki (“All Good Things”) makes a clear statement to the viewer: reality is always more gruesome than fiction.

“The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst”

A-
Series Premiere
HBO
Sundays at 8 p.m.


The series’ primary subject is the perpetrator of the crime, Robert Durst, the son of one of New York City’s wealthiest real estate moguls. Between the 1980s and 2000s, Durst was twice acquitted for murder and has been linked to at least three known disappearances. In 2001, he was the center of a high-profile manhunt across multiple state lines. Now, with “The Jinx,” he has agreed to sit down with filmmaker Andrew Jarecki for a tell-all, face-to-face interview.

The first episode, “The Body in the Bay,” doesn’t feature the interview itself but it sets up for a miniseries that promises to shock, provoke, thrill, appall and mesmerize all who watch. The series’ opening features real photos of the crime telling us that if you’re too disturbed by it, change the channel to “Law and Order.” This case is real.

“The Jinx” draws viewers in with interviews, video clips, photographs and evidence from the crime. The case extends to Durst’s relatives, friends, and any other individuals somehow connected or affected by the case. In this, the film creates a web of intrigue with Robert Durst at the center.

In his essay, “The Simple Art of Murder,” crime-fiction icon Raymond Chandler once said Dashiell Hammett — whose contributions to American crime fiction rival those of Edgar Allan Poe — “gave murder back to the kind of people who commit it.” This authenticity is what makes “The Jinx” more enthralling than any hour on CBS where good-looking movie stars dodge explosions with snarky quips. Not to say that fictional shows can’t capture the reality of American crime — just look at “The Sopranos,” “True Detective,” “The Wire” and “Breaking Bad.” But what Jarecki proves is truth will always be more interesting than fiction, and this miniseries is most certainly the truth, in all its filthy, horrible, grotesque magnificence.

The series premiere might disappoint some hoping to see the interview with Durst, which is treated as a cliffhanger at the end of the episode. There’s also quite a bit of focus on the goriness of the Galveston crime. The real-life violence will paralyze most with its explicitness, but you wonder if the gritty details depicted will distract and turn off certain viewers from the series’ more interesting aspects.

As for Jarecki’s style, the filmmaker that most comes to mind is Errol Morris, whose 1988 true crime classic “The Thin Blue Line” revolutionized cinema when it saved the life of a man falsely accused of murdering a police officer. The cool, slick and atmospheric reenactments and the Philip Glass-inspired score are highly reminiscent of Morris. It’s too early to say what surprises Jarecki and his subject, Robert Durst, have planned, but the first episode promises that “The Jinx” will be well worth watching … as long as the viewer remembers to keep the lights on.

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