We’ve had to wait a while for All Good Things. Shot in 2008 it was slated for US release in 2009, but various issues with the distribution meant it didn’t actually hit American cinemas until late 2010 (and even then it only got a small release). It’s take another two full years for it to arrive in the UK, despite the presence of Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst.
Based on a true story, Gosling plays David Marks, who in the early 1980s is the heir to a mega-rich empire. However he massively dislikes his father (Frank Langella) and would prefer to have little to do with the family business. He meets and marries the lower-middle class Katie (Kirsten Dunst), fleeing the city to a place in rural Vermont. However they’re lured back to New York by David’s father.
Things begin to unravel as David reveals an unstable, violent, abusive streak, reacting badly to his wife’s questions and any attempt by her to have some independence. With David constantly high and getting increasingly unpredictable, Katie begins to look for a way out.
Then she completely disappears.
All eyes immediately turn to David, with many suspecting him of murder. The film also shows us David 20-years later, when Katie’s possible killing isn’t the only murder he’s suspected of, even if it’s difficult to actually prove anything.
Films based on a true story often get a lot of stick for changing the truth, but All Good Things shows why movies often like to mix fiction with their fact. The screenwriters and director Andrew Jarecki did massive amounts of research into the case the film is based on – although in real life it wasn’t David and Katie Marks, it was Robert and Kathleen Durst – with some of the dialogue coming straight from interviews with those involved and court records. The result is a movie that wants to tell the truth, while acknowledging that there are things that it can’t know for certain.
The result is a sense of constant ambiguity, not least in the character of David. What’s verifiable about him is undoubtedly troubling and strange, from his intense mood swings to the fact that for a while he lived as a woman (not because he was a transvestite or transsexual, but simply as a way of escaping himself), but the movie knows that to turn him into a fully cohesive film character it would have to start inventing things that allow him to make sense in a simple way. And that’s something it’s not prepared to do. Although there is some speculation in the film, it never goes too far and so it’s always rather ambiguous. The result is that it never feels like you’re getting to understand Robert, no matter how many family skeletons emerge from the closet or how incredible his story gets.
It should also be remembered that Robert Durst is still alive, a fact that means the filmmakers had to be extra careful about what they said about him.
More successful is the film’s handling of Katie, with Kirsten Dunst putting in a strong performance as a woman in love, who finds herself in an ever worsening situation and can’t find any way out. The film tries to deal with why a woman would stay with an abusive spouse, and while it sometimes feels as if its only talking about people in Katie’s specific circumstances, it works well.
I couldn’t help but feel there’s probably a better way to tell this tale without having to stray too far from the truth, but the film certainly does enough to keep you engaged even if its ambiguity can be frustrating.
If you want to know more about the case the movie is based on, there’s plenty on offer in the special features – indeed in some ways these are more interesting than the film. That’s perhaps not too surprising, as Andrew Jarecki’s background is in documentaries (the brilliant Capturing The Friedmans) and this is his only fiction feature. The featurettes include interviews with friends of Robert and Kathleen Durst as well as her family members, most of whom are in no doubt as to what happened to her after she went missing.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the whole story is what occurred after Kathleen disappeared, which involve the execution-style murder of one of David’s friends (just before she was supposed to be interviewed by the police and New York Times about Kathleen’s disappearance), and the death and dismemberment of a neighbour he befriended. It’s a fascinating and intriguing part of the story that the film doesn’t really spend enough time on, especially as David’s actions after his wife’s disappearance may illuminate more about what happened with Kathleen than what can be verified about his time with her.
However the real coup and absolutely astonishing thing in the feature package is an audio commentary with Andrew Jarecki and Robert Durst. Yep, the man who this film suggests was involved in or responsible for at least three deaths, for some reason agreed to sit down and provide a commentary for the movie. Goodness knows why he agreed to do it, but he is undoubtedly an unusual man – whether he’s killed anyone or not – and you get a slight feeling from what he has to say that he likes the notoriety.
It’s a very eerie commentary. While you might expect Durst to spend much of it denying he’s a murderer, he only really gets upset about the suggestion he killed his dog. There are far more times where he agrees the movie has gotten certain things pretty much right, even when it’s painting him as a bit of a monster. While he never admits to murder, he doesn’t put much effort into denying it, and his nonchalance about the dismembering of a body that he most certainly was involved in is incredibly bizarre.
While Jarecki’s present for the commentary, he doesn’t question Durst too closely, although it’s tough to know whether that’s because he doesn’t want to scare him off, if he felt it best to simply allow Robert to speak, or if there are lawyers who’ve told him he can’t get too close to Durst’s possible crimes.
It’s very unusual, strange, creepy and certainly adds a huge dose of interest to a film that’s interesting, even if it’s a little too ambiguous for its own good and leaves its main character frustratingly nebulous. But hey, if you’ve got Durst there to provide a commentary, he can help fill in the blanks.
Overall Verdict: A fascinating story that never really gets to grips with Gosling’s character, leaving Dunst to shine as his trapped wife. However some excellent special features, including a commentary with the possible murderer, make this a far more enticing package.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac