Special Note: "All Good Things" is based on true events and, therefore, certain plot details are discussed that might in other reviews be considered spoilers. Those who are unfamiliar with the case or do not wish to learn about it before viewing the film should return to this review only after they have seen it.
David Marks (Ryan Gosling) meets Katie McCarthy (Kirsten Dunst) when he stops by her new rinky-dink Manhattan apartment to fix a leaky faucet. She comes from a modest background and hopes to eventually be able to put herself through med school. He's the son of real estate mogul Sanford Marks (Frank Langella), a man he despises for many reasons, not the least being because he made him watch his mother commit suicide when he was just seven years old. David and Katie quickly fall in love and are married the following year. David separates himself from the family business and he and his new bride relocate to Connecticut, where they open a quaint health food store named All Good Things. Sounds romantic, huhthe whole "love conquering all" thing? Now, what if we added on to this that Katie went missing less than ten years later and David, while never convicted of a crime in connection with her disappearance, was largely suspected of having murdered her? Eventually, two more people would be dead: David's longtime author friend Deborah Lehrman (Lily Rabe) and his elderly neighbor Melvin Bump (Philip Baker Hall). Add in a few strongly suspected mental illnesses and a stint where David poses as a woman to flee from the spotlight and what you have is "All Good Things," a true crime romance-cum-mystery that, yes, certainly weaves a tangled web.
Directed by Andrew Jarecki (2003's stirring documentary "Capturing the Friedmans"), "All Good Things" alters the names but otherwise recounts the real-life story of Robert Durst and Kathleen McCormack. Theirs is an intriguing cautionary tale that sends out the message that you may not always genuinely know the person you share a bed with. Because there are, to this day, more questions than answers to what actually occurred that led to Kathleen's disappearance and, later, the two aforementioned killings, the film feels as unfinished as the cold case itself. At the same time, because audiences expect answers, screenwriters Marcus Hinchey and Marc Smerling fabricate the truth and contrive fictional scenarios of what could
have happened. It's a nice try, but not at all satisfying. As for David Marks, his troubles as a screen character run as deep as his complex psychological issues. In a nutshell, he's an inscrutable, undernourished central figure impossible to understand or connect with.
The opening hour is the film's best. Those not already in the know may be led to believe that the movie is a straight love story between David and Katie, a "wrong-side-of-the-tracks" plot where the two of them fall in love, defy their naysayers, and live happily ever after. David is charming at first, and their relationship appears totally normal until a switch abruptly switches and he transforms into a different person. As the viewer follows Katie on her journey toward discovering the real man she has married, it is understandable to be just as confounded as she is when David starts talking to himself, grows increasingly disheveled, and illustrates his propensity for violent outbursts. Katie wants to leave after he makes her go through with an abortion, and then she really
wants to leave when he physically assaults her at a family party, but his wealth and ability to put her through school keeps her from following through with it. Divorce would do no good from a financial perspective, either, since David's money is actually his father's money. Without that, he's broke.
When Katie vanishes from the picture, never to be seen again, the point-of-view shifts from her to David with fatal results. An erratic cipher rather than a fully developed person, David is one big question mark. Director Andrew Jarecki does not come right out and say that David killed Katie, but it is inferred strongly enough. He's not at all a pleasant guy to be around, and this fact does major damage to the hearsay that follows. David's illness is never treated seriously, but as a plot device. The conclusion, a combination of scandalous invention and adherence to fact, is an uneasy mixture, to be sure. The outcome of David's trial for Melvin's murder and dismembermenthe claims it was self-defenseis simply frustrating.
Ryan Gosling (2007's "Fracture
") is plausible playing nice and crazy, but no one involved has gotten a handle on his character. He's an enigma, all right, and not a particularly interesting one. As the ill-fated Katie, Kirsten Dunst (2008's "How to Lose Friends & Alienate People
") is the solid focus for long enough that she's greatly missed when she's no longer there. This might have been the point, but the remainder of the film suffers in her absence. In a small role notable all the same for its against-type casting, funnywoman Kristen Wiig (she of 2010's "
MacGruber" and TV's "SNL") shows up and does well without so much as a wink as Katie's coke-snorting gal pal Lauren. "All Good Things" is well-acted, but at the service of an uneven narrative structure and a hollow emotional core. A documentary on the same subject would have alleviated a lot of its problems. With someone of Andrew Jarecki's non-fiction background at the helm, it wouldn't have been tough to door a bad idea.