All Good Things (Magnolia Pictures, R)

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The story concerns Durst/Marks very likely killing his wife, moving to a different town and trying to pass himself off as a mute old woman, then dismembering his neighbor.

Sometimes movies fail because they’re bad, and other times movies fail because they don’t succeed. All Good Things, which is a fictional story based closely on the real-life story of New York’s Robert A. Durst, seems like it should be a great movie. The events it is based on are very interesting, it has a great cast and it’s the first fiction film made by an exciting director. But because of these interesting tidbits we hold it to a higher standard; though in reality All Good Things is a mediocre film, under the circumstances it feels like an outright bad one.
The aforementioned great cast consists of Ryan Gosling as David Marks (the Robert Durst character), Kirsten Dunst as his wife Katie, and Frank Langella as his father Sanford, with some other welcome faces (Philip Baker Hall, Kristen Wiig) filling in small supporting roles. The director is Andrew Jarecki, whose only prior feature film was 2003’s much-lauded Capturing the Friedmans, which I’ve always thought is at least somewhat overrated. And the story, if you don’t already know, concerns Durst/Marks very likely killing his wife, moving to a different town and trying to pass himself off as a mute old woman, then dismembering his neighbor—and probably taking down another person or two along the way.
I say very likely, because Durst has (so far) only been convicted of killing and dismembering his neighbor, which was ruled as an act of self-defense. Because Durst is still alive and there are a lot of maybes in the case (though it seems pretty clear what happened, if you investigate the facts), the film has to engage in quite a bit of conjecture. It is in this often-dubious speculation that the film falls so flat. It doesn’t help that it seems to have ripped off its score and ending structure from The Usual Suspects, a far superior film in every capacity.
Given my lack of excitement over Capturing the Friedmans, I can’t say that I’m all that surprised by Jarecki’s failure here. I am surprised that the cast isn’t more engaging. While Langella comes off well, this is the least inspired I’ve seen Ryan Gosling in quite some time (a fact made all the more glaring by his career-best performance in Blue Valentine, which is being released practically concurrently with All Good Things). Meanwhile Kirsten Dunst, who I regarded as having some talent in the past, really blows a fairly meaty role here; her character is nowhere near as sympathetic or charismatic as it seems like the filmmakers wanted her to be.
What it comes down to, really, is what you’re expecting going into this film. If you rush out to the theatre and see it because you’re a fan of Gosling, Jarecki or Dunst, or because you are intrigued by the Durst case, you’re going to be very disappointed. However, if you stumble in not knowing much about the story (and maybe also not recognizing the names in the credits), you might enjoy it somewhat. But any movie that requires its audience to be uneducated in order to enjoy it is suspect, and taken from that angle it’s hard to recommend All Good Things. | Pete Timmermann

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