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True Crime Double Feature: The Jinx/The Staircase II

Posted by martinteller on March 21, 2015

Chances are you’ve heard the buzz about HBO’s documentary mini-series, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.  It’s also likely that you’ve seen Durst’s name pop up in recent headlines.  As in most situations like this, I would encourage the viewer to go in with as little prior knowledge as possible.  I knew only the barest of information, but I still found it colored my perception of Durst while watching.  Nonetheless, it didn’t decrease my appreciation for this work at all.  This is edge-of-your-seat viewing.  I think each of the six episodes includes at least one “holy shit!” moment, the final one being the holy-shit-iest of them all.  Andrew Jarecki struck documentarian gold previously with the stunning Capturing the Friedmans, and here he does it again.  As the story takes one bizarre and shocking turn after another, Jarecki and his team become entwined in it.  At first Jarecki’s insistence on including himself in the documentary feels like unnecessary meta-commentary, but by the final episode it justifies itself in the best way possible.  I know I’ve said nothing about the actual content of the story, but take my word for it, it’s remarkable stuff.  Rating: Great (93)

Another true crime documentary mini-series, The Staircase, gets an update.  In The Staircase II: Last Chance, Jean-Xavier de Lestrade returns to the story of Michael Peterson, who had spent the last 8 years in prison for the murder of his wife Kathleen.  The original 8-part miniseries was also riveting with many twists and turns, although the film seemed biased in Michael’s favor.  Now a new piece of information has arisen that seems to justify that bias, at least to some degree.  The information surrounding this new development is interesting, and — like The Jinx — raises questions about the effectiveness of our systems of criminal investigation and jurisprudence, regardless of whether you think Peterson is guilty or innocent.  However, the 2-hour film spends a lot of time focusing on Peterson’s family and while some of this provides a valuable human element, it gets repetitive and frankly dull.  We know his kids (except Caitlin, who is conspicuously not much of a participant here) love him and support him.  We don’t need to see it over and over again.  I was also surprised that there was no mention at all of the “owl theory”, which has a lot of merits.  I’m guessing Lestrade thought it could potentially be more damaging to Peterson’s case than helpful.  I can’t imagine a less biased filmmaker not wanting to explore such an unusual avenue.  Rating: Good (71)

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