A Tricky Point of View in All Good Things
- Christian Hamaker Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2010 3 Dec
DVD Release Date: March 29, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: December 3, 2010 (limited)
Rating: R (for drug use, violence, language and some sexuality)
Run Time: 101 min.
Director: Andrew Jarecki
Actors: Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst, Frank Langella, Lily Rabe, Philip Baker Hall, Kristen Wiig
It's good to come to All Good Things armed with a little background knowledge. The film recounts a high-profile disappearance case from the early 1980s that was opened again in the early 2000s, but the names have been changed in this telling. The reason for these changes is uncertain. The protagonist is based on Robert Durst, who is still alive. Apparently, he's seen the film and appreciates it, although that's hard to believe because the movie accuses him of killing his wife and arranging for the death of a longtime friend.
In the film, the Durst character is renamed David Marks (Ryan Gosling). His father, Sanford (Frank Langella), runs the family real estate investment business in New York. He expects David to follow in his footsteps and take over the company, but David has other ideas. After being sent by his father to fix a tenant's sink, he falls for the woman, named Katie (Kirsten Dunst), even though his father warns David that "she's never going to be one of us."
But it's David who feels like an outsider among the Marks clan. He and Katie move to Vermont, where they set up a health-food store called All Good Things. Things seem to be going David's way, but problems begin to bubble to the surface. He tells Katie he doesn't want children because of his own traumatic childhood. When he was seven years old, he watched his mother jump to her death, while his father did nothing to move his son out of harm's way.
The film takes an interesting, if not entirely successful, turn away from David's point of view and toward Katie's. The couple's idealistic marriage begins to crumble as Katie learns more of David's troubled past and sees a more violent and disturbed side of her husband. Soon David and Katie are leading somewhat separate lives.
At the same time, it could be argued that All Good Things is making a broader point in showing how Katie's and David's marriage tracks the American cultural decay in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Times Square is filled with street walkers and sex shops. When Katie becomes pregnant against David's wishes, he talks her into an abortion. She begins to medicate herself by snorting cocaine. When Katie wants to divorce her abusive husband, she learns that would mean losing access to his family's fortunes—and with it, her ticket to medical school—so she stays with him. David's psychological distintegration drives Katie to make poor decisions that lead to a downward spiral ending in her disappearance.
After Katie's disappearance, the film shifts its focus back to David. He vanishes from society, showing up in Texas, where he poses as a woman anytime he leaves his apartment. This portion of the film raises several more questions. How does his female childhood friend (Lily Rabe) know where he's hiding? What are his motives in pursuing a friendship with a lonely neighbor (Philip Baker Hall)? Why do David's friends keep meeting grisly fates?
As All Good Things time travels from the 1970s to the 2000s, it shifts points of view between David and Katie, and it plays like a love story before becoming a wife-in-jeopardy murder mystery. It also hops from legal drama to psychological case study. Jarecki has mined the troubled-family dynamic before in his documentary Capturing the Friedmans (2003), but his approach to the kind-of-true story in All Good Things is more problematic. Here he draws on real-life incidents but goes beyond the historical record to point a finger squarely at Marks as a murderer, or at least co-conspirator, in the disappearance of his wife and the deaths of others close to Marks. In real life, Durst was never charged in the deaths of his wife or female friend, although he did serve time for charges (not murder) related to the death of the lonely neighbor.
Jarecki's film is grounded by Gosling's strong performance as David, and by the other actors, all of whom shine. Nevertheless, the film is largely conjecture, and although it's interesting speculation, it feels like a hit job on a man for crimes for which he has never been charged. The final impression the film leaves is one of unseemly guesswork and tabloid tactics that are more worthy of rebuke to the filmmakers than to Durst himself.
Language/Profanity: "F" word; "Jesus"; "a-s"; "a-shole"; "hell"; "motherf-----".
Alcohol/Drugs: Smoking and drinking, including drug use, at several moments during the film's running time, including joints and lines of cocaine; drinking and driving.
Sex/Nudity: Katie and David live together; they are first shown in bed kissing, but nothing is seen below their shoulders; later, after they're married, he removes her underwear and they undress each other as they kiss, and the film cuts to after they've had sex; Katie is shown in a bikini; Times Square is shown in an era when it was populated by prostitutes and sex shops; a brief second from a porn movie can be seen; David strips to his underwear and jumps in a lake; Katie, breasts exposed, joins David in the shower and they kiss; David dresses as a woman while in hiding.
Violence/Crime: Film revolves around the murder of multiple people, discussed through audio recordings and once shown; David saw his mother jump to her death, and we hear about the condition of the mother's body after impact; David throws a chair and knocks down a bookshelf; a woman is shown at an abortion clinic, and she later expresses confusion about whether or not she regrets the act; David grabs Katie by the hair and forces her out of a house; Katie flees to a neighbor's apartment in fear, but returns to David's apartment, then is seen the next day with a black eye; visual evidence of a dog's death; David keeps handguns in a drawer; a woman is shot, and her corpse shown against a blood-drenched floor; a man falls down, dead; a killing is claimed to be self-defense; a bloody saw is shown as a man dismembers a body; the body parts are dropped in bags off a bridge.
Religion/Morals: David and Katie begin living apart but stay married; Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan is shown telling an aide to return incriminating evidence to the Markses because the issue is "a family matter."
Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at [email protected].