Andrew Jarecki's All Good Things arrives with the expected bad buzz of a so-called "troubled production"; it was shot back in 2008 and initially intended for a fall 2009 release before hitting the fabled Weinsten shelves, where it languished for a year or so before director Jarecki bought back the domestic distribution rights and cut a deal with Magnolia Pictures. Considering some of the pap that the Weinstein Company has foisted on us in that year, the fact that they didn't think All Good Things was worth releasing would seem, for most, a telling indication of the quality of the picture. Instead, it's a reminder of the continuing decline in judgment at the Weinstein Company, since the film they sat on for a year is, come to find out, outstanding.
It is one of those "inspired by a true story" affairs, taking its narrative cues from the tabloid-friendly troubles of Robert Durst, son of a wealthy New York real estate mogul, suspected of committing (or at least being involved in) three separate murders in New York, California, and Texas. Here renamed David Marks (presumably to avoid a nice, fat lawsuit), he is played by Ryan Gosling in a live-wire performance as a free spirit who can imagine no fate worse than going into the family business; he's handsome and charming, and when he meets Katie McCarthy (a sunny Kirsten Dunst), they hit it off right away. They marry and go to Vermont to live the charmed life, but his father (Frank Langella) turns the screws on him to join the family business, and convinces David that he'll have to make a good living to keep Katie happy--planting a seed of resentment towards Katie that's manufactured out of sheer fiction.
As David sinks into his depressing job, a darkness is gradually revealed--a troublesome undercurrent, a deep and somewhat worrisome unhappiness that manifests itself in "voices" both in his head and out loud. Soon, David becomes both psychologically and physically abusive, prone to violent outbursts, capable of losing his tenuous grasp on reality. "Does that girl know how fucked up you are?" a friend asks him. To her detriment, she does not.
The film's most basic, fundamental strength is how it refuses to give itself away (avoid the details of the story, if you can); it is masterful in its ability to slowly uncoil its revelations, to allow dread and misfortune to seep in from the edges of the frame until the situation comes to a scary--and somewhat inevitable--head. But then the film jumps a full 18 years ahead (ballsy), and that's when things get really weird.
Director Jarecki, who helmed the unforgettable 2003 documentary Capturing the Friedmanss, makes the wise choice to play even the most bonkers material straight (with the notable exception of the deliberately, almost comically, melodramatic score, which is like something out of a vintage DePalma picture). His background as a documentarian is one of the film's greatest assets--not just for his attention to detail and authenticity, but for his refusal to snicker at even the strangest story twists. The film's only real flaw is its occasional reliance on visual clichés--has there ever been a movie about a happy family that begins with grainy 8mm home movies?
He's also got a real way with actors--Gosling is somehow both impenetrable and impossible to take your eyes off of, and this is without question Dunst's best work to date. She's been a little scarce lately, so it's good to see her from the beginning, and in their scenes of flirtation and romantic glow, she's cute, warm, and charismatic. But she moves easily into the picture's darker corners, her keenly-felt performance a stirring slow-motion account of a woman going right to pieces (she's doing some stuff in the back of that cab that you can't even pinpoint, it so rich and pointed). It's a tremendous piece of work.
By the time All Good Things arrives at its shocking conclusion, the audience is a bit wrung out--by the tale's intensity, and by the picture's scope. It hopscotches genres and tones without jarring; it tales a true story without sopping to Lifetime-movie schmaltz. It is an odd, challenging movie, but compelling and intelligent all the same. No wonder the Weinstein folks didn't want to have anything to do with it.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.