Film Review: As drama, murder memoir lacks punch

Ryan Gosling (left) is good as a schizophrenic real estate heir, and Kirsten Dunst is superb as his wife, but 'All Good Things' is uneven as a narrative drama.

Magnolia Pictures

Ryan Gosling (left) is good as a schizophrenic real estate heir, and Kirsten Dunst is superb as his wife, but "All Good Things" is uneven as a narrative drama.

A fact-inspired tale of murder and madness among the ultra-moneyed in Manhattan, "All Good Things" is as schizophrenic as its troubled protagonist, real estate heir David Marks (Ryan Gosling), who gives up his trust-fund "live-off-the-land" aspirations and Vermont health-food business to join his stern, unloving father (Frank Langella) in New York, where the family rubs shoulders with the political and business elite while squeezing rents from Times Square's sleaziest sex establishments.

"All Good Things" is a love story and murder mystery set against the backdrop of a New York real estate dynasty in the 1980s. Mr. ...

Rating: R for drug use, violence, language and some sexuality

Length: 101 minutes

Released: December 3, 2010 Limited

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Frank Langella, Kristen Wiig

Director: Andrew Jarecki

Writer: Marcus Hinchey, Andrew Jarecki

More info and showtimes »

Gosling is good, as expected, but the surprise is Kirsten Dunst, who is superb -- fragile yet intense -- in the complex and demanding role of Katie, Mark's initially ebullient young wife. Increasingly unhappy and troubled by her husband's erratic behavior, Katie is reductively defined by the press as a "beautiful medical student" when her disappearance makes headlines, an event that transforms "All Good Things" from a psychological period piece about a fragmenting 1970s marriage into a 1980s-and-beyond murder mystery involving three possible corpses. (Four, if you include the dog.)

"All Good Things" was inspired by the real-life case of Robert Durst, who, according to his Wikipedia entry, went on trial in 2003 "for the murder of Morris Black. He hired well-known defense attorney Dick DeGuerin and claimed self-defense. During cross-examination by Galveston District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk, Durst admitted to using a paring knife, two saws and an axe to dismember Black's body before dumping his remains in Galveston Bay. The jury acquitted him of murder."

Those online sentences -- wry and shocking -- have a narrative punch and sting that "All Good Things" lacks. Perhaps the movie might have had more impact if it had embraced the perverse psycho-thriller elements that made the Durst case attractive for the movies. Instead, debuting drama director Andrew Jarecki delivers a disjoined art film (with Philip Baker Hall as the Morris Black character); possibly for legal reasons, he opts for ambiguity over clarity, even though the character's names have been changed.

Jarecki's grasp of the challenging material seems unsure; several sequences are more dutiful than distinctive. David and Katie's wedding, for example, is presented as a series of home-movie excerpts -- a storytelling device that has become a real cliché. Later, a tense scene is punctuated by a shrill scream that proves to be a tea kettle's whistle; Jarecki cuts to the kettle, then to a closer shot of the kettle, then to a transition shot of a speeding train, the whoosh of its passage replacing the shreee of the boiling water.

Jarecki previously directed the documentary feature "Capturing the Friedmans," about a seemingly "normal" 1980s Long Island family accused of child sexual abuse. A similar peek behind closed doors into family dysfunction and criminality, "All Good Things" -- scripted by Jarecki, Marcus Hinche and "Friedmans" producer Marc Smerling -- is a logical companion piece to the earlier film; but a documentary about the actual Durst case, without the evasions and compromises of this "based on a true story" narrative, might have made for a more engrossing followup. One can't help but think that Jarecki chose to rework this material as drama to benefit his career, not the story.

"All Good Things" is at the Studio on the Square.

-- John Beifuss: 529-2394

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