All Good Things falls into the tricky subgenre of unsolved crime drama. Whether handled expertly, as in the case of David Fincher’s Zodiac, or sloppily, as in Brian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia, there’s something inherently dissatisfying about these films. Perhaps it’s because, on a primal level, we prefer our monsters caught and killed. Ancient myths were certainly never built on ambiguity and irresolution. Then again, ancient listeners never had the chance to watch a Blu-ray like Magnolia’s All Good Things, which not only includes the speculative story of a possibly monstrous human being, but also a fascinatingly bizarre audio commentary from the possible monster himself, Robert Durst. My review after the jump.
All Good Things stars Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine, Half Nelson) as the Durst-esque David Marks, a young man born into a real estate dynasty presided over by bullying patriarch Sanford Marks, played by Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps). Marks appears at the top of the film as a likably rebellious son who wants nothing to do with the family business and everything to do with the lovely Katie McCarthy, played by Kirsten Dunst (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,The Virgin Suicides), whom he eventually marries.
For those aware that McCarthy’s real life counterpart Kathie Durst went missing in 1982, a haunting pall hangs over the film’s early scenes of newlywed bliss. Many have long suspected Durst of playing a role in his wife’s disappearance and his 2003 trial for killing and dismembering an acquaintance named Morris Black certainly did nothing to negate those suspicions. Although Durst was never tried for McCormack’s murder and was acquitted for Black’s, director Andrew Jarecki (Capturing the Friedmans) hardly depicts Durst as some kind of wrongly suspected innocent. In fact, as played by Gosling, he comes across as a socially awkward man with potentially serious mental health issues and a penchant for violent rage.
Building a film’s narrative around an unconfirmed murder suspect and unsolved missing person’s case is a risky creative endeavor but Jarecki does his best to fill in the blanks. He certainly provides a riveting tale of marriage in distress during the film’s first half. Although he’s stuck playing a bit of a human cipher, Gosling is never less than mesmerizing. Meanwhile Dunst anchors us with her more recognizably human portrayal of Katie. It’s the strongest work of her career and when her character disappears from the film, it loses its comforting human heart.
If All Good Things is ultimately a bit dissatisfying due to its inability to answer many of the questions it raises – the intrinsic weakness of the unsolved crime drama – it’s still a riveting piece of entertainment. This is due in large part to its stellar cast, excellent period detail and costuming and strong supporting turns from Lily Rabe as Marks’ confidant Deborah Lehrman (whose real life counterpart Susan Berman was mysteriously murdered in 2000) and Philip Baker Hall as the murdered Morris.
After watching the film, viewers are encouraged to further explore Durst’s alleged crimes with hours of fascinating bonus features, including the making-of docs “All Good Things: Truth in Fiction,” “Back in Time: Researching the Original Story,” and “Beneath the Surface of All Good Things: Interview with Andrew Jarecki.” These comprehensive featurettes reveal the fascinating process by which the filmmakers crafted their story out of court transcripts and filmed interviews with Durst and McCarthy’s friends and family. Additional bonus features include deleted scenes, “Wrinkles in Time: Ryan Ages,” showcasing the film’s makeup effects, and commentary with director/producer Jarecki, co-writer and co-producer Marcus Hinchey and co-writer and co-producer Marc Smerling.
The disc’s insanely revolutionary special feature, however, is the audio track with Robert Durst. It’s certainly a modern touch to have someone comment on a film that more or less implicates him in an unsolved crime. It’s also especially eerie how amiable Durst sounds confirming some of the film’s more disturbing acts of violence, including a scene in which Gosling drags Dunst out of a party by her hair. In my opinion, Durst’s participation in the audio track is somewhat akin to O.J. writing that “If I Did It” book. In both cases, it’s hard to tell if the act suggests total innocence or total pathology.
The 1080p high definition picture shows off the effectively moody work of director of photography Michael Seresin (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). Audio options include English 5.1 DTS-HD MA. Subtitle options are English SDH and Spanish.
All Good Things is an intriguing, well-acted crime drama featuring the year’s most provocative piece of added value.
All Good Things was released by Magnolia Pictures. It is rated R for drug use, violence, language and some sexuality.