Generously bankrolled (then shelved) by an imperiled Weinstein Company and peopled with Oscar® nominees, it’s tempting to call All Good Things an upscale version of straight-to-cable True Crime crap—only that makes it sound more entertaining than it actually is.
The fiction feature debut of Andrew Jarecki, director of 2003’s documentary Capturing the Friedmans, All Good Things likewise concerns dark secrets among the Levites of greater New York, reopening the case of Robert “Bobby” Durst: eldest son, estranged heir, and pothead black sheep of a real estate dynasty with Manhattan holdings to rival NYU and the Archdiocese. Too unstable to properly broker power, Durst re-emerged into the public eye in 2000, when the unsolved 1982 disappearance of his wife was reopened for investigation. Shortly afterward, he was sought in connection with a Texas man’s dismembered body. Subsequent trials revealed a personal history winding along a trail of crime scenes and the accused’s penchant for cross-dressing disguises, sending the New York Post’s headline punsters into new heights of eloquence.
Ryan Gosling plays an “inspired by” Durst substitute, David Marks. This symbolic, names-have-been-changed distancing by Jarecki and screenwriters Marcus Hinchey and Marc Smerling, and the discrepancies of existing testimonies, give the filmmakers the freedom to indulge in speculation as to why and how people close to Bobby Durst—sorry, David Marks—keep disappearing and dying. Marks narrates the flashback film, reciting his autobiography from the stand at a 2003 trial in Galveston. This corner-cutting device for establishing character—aided sometimes by montages of home movies tinged in dying golden light—lays out All Good Things’ timeline treatment, flipping back over the 30 years of Marks’s life leading up to the courtroom.
The majority of screentime is devoted to Marks’s courtship of future wife Katie (Kirsten Dunst), and then their slowly disintegrating domestic situation. He is introduced at his most hangdog-affable, meeting-cute the middle-class gal from Mineola, one of his family’s tenants. “She’s not from our world,” Marks patriarch Sanford (Frank Langella) sniffs, dropping what the movie wants us to know in on-the-nose dialogue, not through any astute observation in the meet-the-parents scenes.
The case-history script is ever on-message, but Jarecki ignores the little details that create a credible social reality. The rich are different from you and me in that they wear tennis whites and live in porticoed houses. They also indulge in (unconvincing) backroom dealmaking. The late Senator Moynihan pops up, odd exception to the alias-protection program; the Mayor is some sort of Lindsay-Koch fusion; Westchester County D.A. Jeanine Pirro becomes “Janet Rizzo,” played by Diane Venora as a broad caricature of venal ambition, high heels propped on desk, noshing candy. This is one of the rare moments where the movie is at least enjoyably tabloid-trashy—see also Jarecki’s clod-hopping exercises in symbolic cross-cutting, like Marks preparing to swat a fly while a killing is done at his behest.
Discount analysis is in session throughout. As a boy, Marks witnessed the suicide of his mother. As a man, finding his wife’s letter of acceptance to medical school, her gateway to an independent career, he impulsively splashes into the water by their summer house and hauls their boat ashore: “It was drifting away. I didn’t want anybody to steal it.” The film’s title comes from the name of the organic grocery store operated by Mr. and Mrs. Durst/Marks at the beginning of their marriage—a lost hippie Eden, or “Rosebud”—before Marks is bullied back into the family business to do its dirty work, putting onus for his crimes on the whole rotten system into which he was born.
Gosling communicates Marks’s interior inferno through his usual code of sharp blinks. With a clammy, dim Durst impersonation, the actor succeeds again in making himself “bravely” unappealing, if not interesting—enough probably to perpetuate the unfounded “Next Great Actor” rumor. Also good advertising: All Good Things’ patina of fictionalization has not prevented the cagey Durst Organization from threatening a lawsuit. They need not worry, though. The film succeeds only in indicting its authors.