All Good Things4 Stars
All Good Things, the new film by Capturing the Friedmans director Andrew Jarecki, sent chills up my spine. But that was nothing compared to the creepiness of the character on which the movie is based – Robert Durst (named David Marks in the film), a man whom the film implicates in the murder of his wife, his dog, his childhood friend and his elderly neighbor – proclaiming in an interview with Houston’s CultureMap his love for the film and actor Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of him. That’s just ... wrong.
Here’s the kicker: Durst nails exactly why All Good Things works so well, and addresses something that must be on every critic’s mind going in: “[The film] doesn’t pretend to be a documentary.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Jarecki is in the gift/curse position of having directed only one prior movie, 2003’s damn near perfect Capturing the Friedmans, a true-crime documentary. He also grew up under a domineering father and has built great wealth for himself, much like Durst. Good Things is Jarecki’s first foray into fictionalized filmmaking, but it’s based on the most famous missing persons case in New York history, and the powerful Durst estate has already threatened to sue the film for defamation.
Those are a ton of shackles for a relatively small film to shrug off, but Jarecki does so with skill and confidence by doing exactly what Durst suggested he did: He made a movie, not a documentary.
Although extensively and immersively researched by Jarecki, Good Things builds off its true-crime foundation by tapping into a Jonathan Demme-like sensibility; the film is lushly textured, hauntingly evocative and works, at first, as a love story – Gosling’s Marks falls for Kirsten Dunst’s homespun charm and the two build a life together under the disapproving eye of the Marks fortune – and then as a bizarre crime drama, one in which nothing is as it seems, even though it sure seems like there’s a big something at the heart of it all.
Gosling has the misfortune of having this film hit theaters at around the same time as another Gosling film where he’s married to a sprightly blond. (Blue Valentine opens locally next month.) The young actor is absolutely brilliant in Valentine, so All Good Things seems like a comedown, even though he’s very good in it. As the disappeared wife, Dunst rises to the role’s minor challenges, as does Frank Langella as Marks’ wealthy father.
But the film is all Jarecki’s, and by dutifully drawing within the lines of a semi-linear narrative, he proves himself adept at all manner of filmmaking. Like Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, the film feels like simplistic work considering the talent behind the camera, but like David Marks, those kinds can be the most deceptive – go too far in either direction, melodrama or brutality, and the enterprise collapses. Jarecki walks that line almost as brilliantly as his subject.