It’s been a long road for Andrew Jarecki‘s non-documentary feature debut “All Good Things” to finally get a release. Jarecki bought back the U.S. distribution rights to the film from The Weinstein Company earlier this year after the completed film wound up collecting dust on the studio shelf for over two years. And while The Weinstein Company certainly have a history of not doing right be certain films, this is certainly a case where their instincts to hold the film back were right on the money.
In case you’ve forgotten, the film is based on the true story of Robert Durst, the heir to very a wealthy New York real-estate family who was acquitted of killing his neighbor and whose first wife vanished into thin air. The story of Robert Durst is ripe with bizarro details, and generally speaking, the seedy saga of the powerful family’s black sheep should be fascinating. But unfortunately, “All Good Things” finds a film so focused on the minor key details of the story it fails to engage with the elements that make it such a compelling case.
Ryan Gosling stars as David Marks — for legal reasons all the names have been changed — who from the first frame appears to be not quite right. He’s suffering under the weight, expectation and emotional distance of his father Sanford (Frank Langella) until one day he meets a beautiful free spirit who seems to be his ticket to a life outside elitist walls of the Marks family. He gets married to Katie (Kirsten Dunst) and they move to Vermont where they set up a natural food store called All Good Things. But it isn’t long until Sanford has had enough of supporting his son’s hippie lifestyle, and pulls financial support for the store and more or less forces his son to take up a job in the family business.
So back to Manhattan they go where David settles into his job and becomes increasingly weirder. Matters aren’t helped as his job forces him to go to Times Squares and collect rent in cash from the purveyors of skin flick cinemas and dubious “hotels.” Meanwhile, his relationship with Katie continues to fracture as his behavior becomes more erratic and more violent, and eventually, the two live apart with David staying in the city and Katie living at their house in Westchester. And then one night, under some rather shady circumstances, Katie disappears.
This all sounds like the makings of a great true crime thriller but the film written by Marcus Hinchey and Marc Smerling is so ploddingly one note and narratively confused, you keep waiting for the film to wake up. The film is told as flashback spun from David’s testimony from a trial that occurs for act committed much later in the film but the voiceover is used intermittently at best and seems to crop up whenever the screenwriters need a device to keep the story moving. However the somewhat amateur construction of the plot could be forgiven if it was interesting, but the film’s greatest failing is that, like David, it remains hermetically sealed within the confines of the Marks’ upper class world. There is no sense of how David was perceived by his co-workers, how the family in general was observed by the community in which they operated or even what drew Katie to David in the first place. David is an exile of an already rarefied family but because the audience is trapped within those confines as well the characters are quickly left spinning their wheels against each other with nowhere else to go.
The film does have moments where it manages to break out of its mummified state, and not surprisingly, it occurs when we get some time with the supporting players. Kristen Wiig is solid in a dramatic turn as Katie’s friend Lauren while Nick Offerman (best known as Ron Swanson on “Parks & Recreation“) is equally reliable in his quick appearance as Jim, Katie’s sister. And though Gosling is underserved by the script, Dunst has the best performance in the film by far that keeps the film grounded at least through its first half. But as the film launches into its truly messy third act, you can’t help but feel sorry for the usually awesome Philip Baker Hall who is left floundering in a role as David’s elderly, nosy neighbor Malvern.
During one of the film’s climactic scenes we are shown a glimpse of Edward Dmytryk‘s “The Caine Mutiny” with Humphrey Bogart and it’s a realization that your time could’ve been spent watching a much better film. They say truth is stranger than fiction and in his case it certainly is. The facts surrounding David Marks aka Robert Durst are so odd on their own that filtered through a dramatic retelling they come off both underexplained and wholly absurd. As the credits roll you wish that Jarecki, who made the excellent family doc “Capturing The Friedmans,” had chosen the same investigative path with this story rather than turning it into what is ultimately, an undercooked drama in the realm of a cheap made-for-TV movie. Filled with fact, but barren of any real story, “All Good Things” barely has a couple good things worth mentioning. [C-]