Saturday 18 December 2021

Movie Review: All Good Things (2010)

A crime drama inspired by real events, All Good Things is a fascinating story hampered by an emotional void.

In 2003, David Marks (Ryan Gosling) is testifying in a courtroom, and events are revealed in flashback. In the early 1970s, Sanford Marks (Frank Langella) is a New York City real estate tycoon. His son David is a young man traumatized by the death of his mother when he was young, and now resisting his father's pressure to get involved in the family business. Instead, David marries aspiring medical student Katie McCarthy (Kirsten Dunst) and they relocate to Vermont and open the All Good Things country store.

But David eventually succumbs to his father's wishes and the newlyweds relocate to New York. A fissure develops between Katie and David when he denies her wish to start a family. They grow apart, and he withdraws into an incommunicative shell. The detachment turns to hostility, and over the years bad things start to happen to the people around David, including Katie, his friend Deborah Lehrman (Lily Rabe), and lonely old man Malvern Bump (Philip Baker Hall).

Director Andrew Jarecki steps away from documentaries but stays close to a version of reality, All Good Things inspired by the true story of Robert Durst. Co-writers Marcus Hinchey and Marc Smerling fictionalize the remarkable sequence of events resulting in two suspicious deaths and one missing person over several decades, all swirling around the troubled son of a real estate magnate.

With a quiet mood, a sense of dread, and good use of short and sharp flashbacks, the film is always compelling. But for a relatively brisk length of 101 minutes, the set-up takes a long time. Throughout the first half, David is generally sympathetic (with hints of distress) as a free-spirited scion pushing against a stern father. Once events move towards nefarious intentions, his switch to a withdrawn and mostly silent antagonist leaves behind a disorienting vacuum in the form of an expressionless plotter of evil.

This is no fault of Ryan Gosling, who embodies an enigmatic man descending into an unfortunately unspoken inner hell. It is left to Kirsten Dunst to provide a warm heart and soul, and the film turns cold once Katie is sidelined. But David's grotesque adventures continue, and a final chapter brings in sharp-shooting old codger Malvern Bump, a bizarre cross-dressing sub-plot, and a sudden rise in prominence for the previously barely relevant Deborah. Again the actual plot elements are engrossing, but by now also disjointed.

All Good Things fades towards disheartening resolutions. But the film's release triggered a series of subsequent milestones, including interviews, a documentary, and criminal charges, in a circular case of representative art re-influencing reality.

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