All Good Things
Director - Andrew Jarecki
Cast - Kirsten Dunst, Ryan Gosling, Frank Langella
Country of Origin - U.S.
Discs - 1
MSRP - $26.98
Distributor - Magnolia
Reviewer - Bobby Morgan
The Film: 4./5
The strange-but-true case of the disappearance of Katherine Durst, the wife of an emotionally unstable heir to a New York real estate dynasty who was long suspected of her murder but never convicted, has provided the inspiration for All Good Things, the first fictional film from documentary filmmaker Andrew Jarecki. Jarecki came to prominence in 2003 with his film Capturing the Friedmans, a documentary that focused on a middle class Jewish family from Long Island, New York ripped apart when the father and one of the sons were accused of sexually abusing children, allegations that have been debated over the years. For his first foray into fictional feature filmmaking Jarecki has turned his attention to another infamous case in New York’s sordid history, albeit one that remains unsolved to this day. As they used to say on Dragnet, the names have been changed to protect the innocent. For example, George Baker is now called “Sylvia Wiss”. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.
In 1971 David Marks (Ryan Gosling), the son of N.Y. real estate baron Sanford Marks (Frank Langella), meets Katie (Kirsten Dunst) while fixing the plumbing in the kitchen sink of her modest apartment. He brings Katie to a party at his father’s house that night and introduces her to his family and the upper class elite of the city’s social circle. Everybody seems to like her but his father, while not having anything personal against Katie, thinks she’s all wrong for his son and may turn out to have a bad influence on him. Sanford’s suspicions prove correct when David decides against joining the family business to move with Katie to Vermont, open a health food store, and later get married. The young couple appear to be happy at first but with his father’s crushing disapproval of the direction his life has taken David feels pressured to close the store and move with Katie back to New York. Once back in the city the couple move into a beautiful apartment and David goes to work with his father, but that’s when things start to get dark. It seems the Marks’ real estate business involves some shady and illegal dealings that have them attracting the attention of officials on the local and federal government levels. Meanwhile Katie wants to start a family with David but when that doesn’t work out due to their excessive drug use she instead turns to realizing another cherish dream of hers: becoming a doctor. All this time David’s mental state is slowly deteriorating to the point where his behavior becomes unpredictable and even abusive towards his wife, stemming from a traumatic event in his childhood. Katie doesn’t know the man she married anymore so she wants to make a change in her life and soon events take a turn for the dark and twisted, proving the old saying true that reality truly is stranger than fiction.
All Good Things is another pleasant surprise of a film I have had the good fortune of discovering this year. The fact that this powerful piece of dramatic filmmaking slipped through the cracks while the theaters are clogged with loud, mindless swill designed only to appeal to overgrown children deeply saddens me, and yet I understand why it happened. But the mainstream’s loss is our gain and what a treasure we get in the bargain. Andrew Jarecki, working from a smart script by Marcus Hinchey and Capturing the Friedmans producer Marc Smerling, has crafted an absorbing and exquisitely-detailed drama out of a real unsolved missing person case that provides an acting feast for a cast more than adequate for the challenge at bringing this once familiar life to bold life. The period details are fully realized in the outstanding production design by Wynn Thomas (Cinderella Man) and the cinematography by frequent Alan Parker collaborator Michael Seresin (Midnight Express) that starts out warm and open but gradually grows colder and starker as the story progresses. Scenes of a shadowy figure dumping bags into a river are intercut with the events of the film until the identity of the shadowy figure and the contents of the bags are revealed, and the answer may or may not surprise you. The cast is outstanding and all involved are in top form, whether they be in a major role or a supporting part. Standing out from the pack are Ryan Gosling, a rising talent whose performances get better with every film, and the underrated Kirsten Dunst, a gifted actress when given the right role. Over the years Dunst has been mocked mercilessly for her portrayal of Mary Jane Watson in the Spider-Man movies, but I never joined the throngs of irate fanboys baying for her blood. I always thought her performances were fine but suffered from her having to play a character who was poorly-written and forced to do stupid things and play a damsel in distress every damn time. Given a real character to play in All Good Things Dunst does wonders with a character so inherently sweet and intelligent with an unshakable love for her husband that can’t help but buckle under the pressure of abuse and a marriage turning into a cold parody of its former self. The actress delivers the best work of young career, a truly heartbreaking performance that deserved awards attention it was criminally denied. The same can be said for Gosling, playing a character of great complexity that you find yourself empathizing with him as a person even as he does things that would make you fear and despise him. It’s a difficult line to walk that few actors can pull off without falling flat on their face and Gosling does it masterfully. Another performance you will remember for a long time afterward.
The cast is rounded out by a wonderful selection of talented character actors including: Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) as David‘s disapproving father with hidden demons of his own; Philip Baker Hall (Magnolia) as a lonely old man David forms a bizarre but sad bond with; Lily Rabe (What Just Happened) as a published author with a strange connection to the case; Diane Venora (The Insider) as a crusading district attorney out to make a name for herself prosecuting David Marks; and John Cullum (Northern Exposure) as a lawyer whose questioning of David during his trial provides a narration for the film. The real surprises in the cast for me were Nick Offerman and Kristen Wiig, two strong and up-and-coming comic actors who turn in solid dramatic work here. Offerman, known to fans of the NBC comedy series Parks & Recreation as the affable Ron Swanson, plays Jim, Katie’s loving brother, and he is just as sweet and understanding of someone’s misgivings as she is. Wiig, one of the star players on the current cast of Saturday Night Live and a potential movie star thanks to her recent summer hit Bridesmaids, has a small but effective role as a friend of Katie’s who helps her navigate the pitfalls of a loveless marriage with a cutting wit. She’s pure gold.
All Good Things is presented in a solid 1:78.1 widescreen transfer that gives extra strength to the lighting scheme and makes the exemplary production design look even better. The transfer is supported by a strong English 5.1 Dolby Digital track that brings the dialogue to us loud and perfectly clear while spotlighting the haunting orchestral score by Rob Simonsen and the soundtrack that features period-appropriate tunes by Steely Dan and Donna Summer.
Magnolia has assembled a rather sizable collection of extra features that provide additional insight into the making of the film and the real-life case that inspired it. The supplements begin with a pair of fascinating feature-length commentaries: the first features director Jarecki talking with Robert Durst, the inspiration for the Ryan Gosling character, and their conversation tends to be more personal as they delve deep into the circumstances involving the disappearance of Durst’s wife and the subsequent investigation and trial; the second is more technical and once again features Jarecki, only this time talking about the making of the film with screenwriters Marcus Hinchey and Marc Smerling.
Four deleted scenes totaling five minutes in length add little bits of character and plot information but were wisely cut from the final film. “All Good Things: Truth in Fiction” (26 minutes) focuses on the making of the film and the real crime that inspired it and makes a nice companion piece to the commentaries with very little overlap in information. “Back in Time: Researching the Original Story” (23 minutes) does what the title implies, taking a look at the research that went into the writing of the script and the look and feel of the film. “Wrinkles in Time: Ryan Ages” (2 minutes) is a brief look at the aging make-up used to make Gosling look older as his character ages over the time period depicted in the film. “Unraveling the Story: Interview with Andrew Jarecki” (3 minutes) is a nice talk with the director but after the rest of the features it feels more than a bit redundant. Previews for Vanishing on 7th Street, Black Death, and Monsters which also play upfront when you load the DVD close out the extra features selection.
All Good Things is a powerful and highly affecting fictional feature debut for acclaimed documentarian Andrew Jarecki driven by a smart screenplay that often yields surprising rewards and fantastic performances from an ensemble cast headed by the steadily rising Ryan Gosling and a never-better Kirsten Dunst. I highly recommend this reality-based dramatic gem to anyone looking for a good film designed for intelligent adults.