All Good Things opens Friday in select theaters (see times below)
All Good Things, directed by Andrew Jarecki, stars Ryan Gosling as David Marks, an only slightly fictionalized version of a real-life millionaire named Robert A. Durst, who is suspected of murdering his wife, who disappeared in 1982. David is the son of a real estate tycoon (Frank Langella), who throws such prestigious dinner parties that his toasts are introduced by prominent elected officials; the head of his table has what looks like a mini-dais attached to it.
Young Marks is not interested in the family business, but reluctantly becomes involved in it shortly after getting married. All Good Things features testimony from Marks that serves as narration for much of the film, from his first meeting with Katie (Kirsten Dunst, playing the film’s version of Durst’s wife, Kathie) and their attempt to start a life in Vermont running a health food store, to David’s capitulation to his father to join the family real estate business, to the consequences of David’s degenerating mental health.
One of the visual pleasures of the film is watching David shuffle through the film’s version of early-’80s Times Square as he collects money from his father’s tenants at the motels and porn theaters that used to line 42nd Street. All Good Things focuses on Times Square only as much as it needs to in order to tell its version of Durst’s story, but you can’t help but be disappointed that this part of movie is so fleeting, and that we spend so much more time at Mark’s lake house in Westchester County.
Toward the end of the film, there’s a bizarre turn that could have been a film all its own, but Jarecki’s decision to tell the full story in about 90 minutes doesn’t allow him many indulgences, which the film could have used. It’s engaging, and moves along at a good clip, but suffers from its speedy pace, often sacrificing clarity of motivation. (Why exactly does David ditch the health food store dream to go to work for his father? Why exactly would he have killed Katie?) It’s often like an especially good episode of Law and Orderwhich isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
All Good Things is the first film by Jarecki since Capturing the Friedmans, a queasy documentary about a man who taught children computer classes in his home and may or may not have been a child molester. If nothing else, that film was very good at showing how slippery our perception of guilt can be. Jarecki manipulated evidence to make his audience sure of one thing one minute, only to cast doubt the next.
In All Good Things he is interested in dramatizing his chosen court case, eventually offering a single version of what happened. Unfortunately, he doesn’t fully explore the case’s elements that would have enriched his film, stuff we expect in mysteries (motivation), thrillers (Times Square in the 1980s) or weird psychological dramas (identity crisis and lazy cross-dressing). What Jarecki winds up with is a film whose ambiguity isn’t quite distinguishable from its murkiness. There is a better, sharper, perhaps weirder film inside All Good Things, one that Jarecki may have found if he had veered even further from the testimony.