THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"ALL GOOD THINGS"
Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst star in the based-on-a-true-story crime thriller All Good Things.
All Good Things is a great example of a movie that should have been more than it is. The first fiction feature directed by Andrew Jarecki (Capturing the Friedmans), it is loosely based on the life of Robert Durst, the son of a New York real estate mogul whose wife disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Durst was also strongly suspected in the deaths of two other acquaintances, although he was acquitted of those particular crimes. It's a gripping story, helmed by a filmmaker whose previous work suggests an understanding of dysfunctional behavior, and starring two extremely capable actors. Hard to believe, then, that it left me cold.
Ryan Gosling plays the lead character, renamed David Marks here. David has long been groomed to have a big role in the real estate business run by his father, Sanford Marks (Frank Langella), but he isn't exactly a "people person." Dealing with others seems to make him passive-aggressive and moody. When he meets and falls for Katie (Kirsten Dunst), he decides to shuck real estate for a more bohemian lifestyle; together, they open a health food store whose name gives the film its title. This doesn't sit well with the elder Marks, who lures David back into the fold. Meanwhile, Katie enrolls in medical school and begins to find her passion. Seemingly unable to accept that she's content and he's not, David exhibits some disturbing, abusive behavior that progressively gets worse. Then, one day, Katie vanishes, never to be seen again.
Nearly 20 years later, the case is re-opened. Correctly assuming that he will be fingered, David flees, seeking help from an old family friend (Lily Rabe) and a neighbor (Philip Baker Hall) in the run-down apartment building he moves into. For a time, he even disguises himself as a woman to avoid being found. Framing all of this are scenes of David being interrogated on the witness stand.
The problem with All Good Things isn't the acting. Gosling is excellent as the erratic David Marks, showing us a man who can seem boringly normal at times, dangerously unpredictable at others. There are points in the film when Gosling abandons vanity and just goes for it. One is a scene in which David gets primal scream therapy, and the others are the ones where he (badly) tries to pass as a woman. These bits could be silly, yet Gosling really captures the mental instability that underlies them. He is matched by Kirsten Dunst, who has a less showy role yet still creates a vivid character. Her Katie tries to excuse David's abusiveness away, but as she gains career confidence, it becomes apparent that she doesn't need to put up with him anymore. She finds the strength to let him know this too. Both actors are terrific, turning in some of the most accomplished work of their careers.
So what is the problem? To my mind, there are two - one small, the other a bit bigger. The small one is that the third act requires Gosling to be in old-age makeup. This would be okay, except that he shares a lot of screen time with Phillip Baker Hall, who really is older, and looks it. These scenes, which are supposed to have a fair amount of tension, are marred by the fact that we are obviously looking at one real older person and one fake older person. The makeup, good as it is, doesn't feel convincing when put next to the real deal.
That's not make-or-break though. The more substantial problem is that All Good Things doesn't make David Marks' transition clear enough. He goes from being a quiet, quirky guy to a potential killer with virtually a flip of the switch. I don't think the film dramatizes his psychology very successfully, leaving us unsure of whether David has those dangerous qualities all along or whether he has some sort of psychotic break. The things it does try to explain are rather standard (Overbearing father? Check.). Because his transition isn't depicted with enough clarity, there were times when I actually felt confused by the plot because I didn't understand the character's motivations.
When all is said and done, the performances offer much to admire, while the story fails to provide the chilling intensity it so clearly wants to generate. All Good Things is in theaters, but also available on demand. Fans of Gosling and/or Dunst may want to see it simply to see the stars doing fine, challenging work. It's safe to say, though, that they're the best part of a movie that is oddly unsatisfying.
( out of four)
All Good Things is rated R for drug use, violence, language and some sexuality. The running time is 1 hour and 41 minutes.