All Good Things (United States, 2010)December 02, 2010
On paper, the story of Robert Durst makes for fascinating drama, even though it's missing an ending and several parts of the middle. When someone is writing a nonfiction book or making a documentary, such things have limited importance. But when it comes to a feature film, leaving an audience with an incomplete feeling is not always the best approach. Director Andrew Jarecki, best known for his documentary, Capturing the Friedmans, deserves credit for sticking as much to the facts as he reasonably can. However, by not resorting to invention, his dramatization of Durst's life and alleged crimes, All Good Things, feels unfinished.
All Good Things isn't just based on Durst's well-publicized story (which was the subject matter for an episode of CBS's 48 Hours Mystery), it is Durst's story. For creative and legal reasons, the names have been changed. Durst, as played by Ryan Gosling, is now "David Marks." His wife, Kathie McCormack, is now "Katie McCarthy." And so on... Most of the narrative problems with All Good Things stem from the fact that Durst is suspected of having done some really bad things, but most of them have never been proven. There's enough circumstantial evidence for Jarecki to take the position that David Marks is guilty, but he tells more than he shows. And, although the movie posits a solution to an infamous missing person's case, it does so in a manner that is less than satisfying.
The narrative spans a roughly 30-year period, beginning in the early 1970s, jumping to the late '70s, the early '80s, and finally the early '00s. It opens with the meeting between David Marks, the son of a New York City real estate mogul, and Katie McCarthy (Kirsten Dunst), a woman of no special pedigree. They marry, much to the chagrin of David's father, Sanford (Frank Langella), and move to Vermont, where they live the country life for a while before being wooed back to the city by a persistent Sanford. Their idyllic marriage starts to sour when business pressures cause David's psychological problems (stemming from a childhood incident - he saw his mother kill herself) to escalate and Katie is forced to abort the child she desperately wants because David is firmly set against fatherhood. From there, things spiral into darker territory. David becomes emotionally and physically abusive and Katie begins snorting cocaine as a means of escape since, according to a lawyer she visits, she is essentially trapped in her marriage.
Rather than presenting events in a purely chronological fashion, Jarecki elects to use a non-linear approach, with the majority of the story being related in flashbacks (a visual representation of David's testimony at a trial), although there are mysterious, noir-ish inserts of a woman throwing trash bags off a bridge into a river at night. One generally expects there to be a point to using a wrap-around style; however, in this case, it adds nothing and, if anything, detracts from the progression of the narrative by the inclusion of distracting and unnecessary voice-overs.
The complexity of the relationships detailed in All Good Things make for a refreshing change from the staple interactions viewers have come to expect in American-made dramas. The twisted, co-dependence of David and Katie goes a step beyond how movies often depict dysfunctional relationships, and there's an equal amount of conflict in the way David relates to his powerful, emotionally shielded father. In the end, it's apparent that everything David does, including perhaps committing murder, has some relation to Sanford. In a late scene, David makes a cryptic comment to his father about them now both being "the same" that is chilling because of its implications.
This kind of dark material is familiar territory for both Frank Langella and Ryan Gosling, and their assured performances reflect their ability to move freely through grim surroundings. It's another matter for Kirsten Dunst, who appears to be gravitating toward more adult roles after spending the majority of her career in lighter, box office friendly endeavors. Her work as Katie is credible and should open doors for her with filmmakers reluctant to hire someone who is known primarily as Mary Jane Watson. (In fact, she will be appearing in Lars Von Trier's next project, which is about as far from the mainstream as one can get.) Kristin Wiig has a small supporting role that is in no way supposed to be funny, and illustrates that she may be a better dramatic actress than a comedienne.
A victim of The Weinstein Company's continuing economic woes, All Good Things has languished on the distributor's shelves since it was completed in 2008. Jarecki, concerned that it might never see the light of day, bought back the domestic rights and shopped them to Magnolia, which is using a multi-phased approach (pay-per-view TV simultaneous with a Landmark theatrical release) to open All Good Things. The film, although deeply flawed, is at times compelling, even if it seems as if a reel is missing. And, when the end credits begin rolling, one can be forgiven the thought that perhaps Jarecki, gifted non-fiction filmmaker that he is, would have been better served telling this tale as a documentary. The feature fit is awkward and ultimately unsatisfying.
All Good Things (United States, 2010)
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst, Frank Langella, Lily Rabe, Philip Baker Hall, Diane Venora, Kristin Wiig
Screenplay: Marcus Hinchey and Marc Smerling
Cinematography: Michael Seresin
Music: Rob Simonsen
U.S. Distributor: Magnolia Pictures