Based on one of the most publicized and speculative missing-persons cases in the annals of New York’s unsolved murder files, All Good Things is a fascinating, well-documented combination love story-murder mystery that will leave you guessing, much like the real-life case itself, 28 years after the fact. Sharply directed by Andrew Jarecki and starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst, two of the screen’s most talented young actors, as ill-fated lovers caught in a tangled web of betrayal and intrigue, it will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last frame. And here’s the biggest nail biter of all: The end still hasn’t been written.
Mr. Gosling is a memorable study in unhinged self-destruction as a man driven to madness.
Inspired by harrowing events surrounding the 1982 disappearance of beautiful Westchester socialite Kathie Durst, the film follows the complex internecine activities of her husband, Robert, the heir to a great real estate fortune who was suspected of her murder but never tried. Since Robert Durst is still alive and fond of publicity, the names have been changed to David and Katie Marks, probably to protect the filmmakers from litigation, but the tactic fools nobody–Mr. Durst himself attended a private screening and delivered his own review to the insatiable press (mostly favorable). The movie retraces the story’s steps back to 1971, when the Durst/Marks patriarch (played with cold, marble cruelty by Frank Langella) sets in motion a plan to restore Times Square to its former glory but instead uses his real estate dynasty as a respectable front for leasing out peep shows and porno shops. He is portrayed as a stingy, contemptible monarch who manipulates his two sons and strong-arms David (Mr. Gosling) into doctoring and hiding the books, and later collecting payoff money.
Fleeing his father’s control, David takes his bride, Katie (Ms. Dunst), to Vermont and opens a health food store called “All Good Things.” These are happy times, but soon they’re forced to return to the sleazy world of New York corruption, and things fall apart. He beats her up at a family reunion, insults her publicly and deserts her on the way to getting an abortion. When she files for divorce, she discovers that his family controls all of his money, preventing her from receiving a settlement. Gradually her life begins to slip away, and the only way she can survive is to play hardball. In the film, she sends the family’s secret accounting ledgers to Senator Patrick Moynihan, who returns them unread (a fact vigorously denied by the Dursts). Threatening to expose the family as slumlords and illegal drug dealers turns out to be a bad idea. One rainy night in 1982, she vanishes without a trace. Her body has never been found.
David changes his name and starts a new life in Texas as a woman. Eighteen years after Katie’s disappearance, one of David’s confidantes, a writer named Deborah (based on Susan Berman, and well played by Jill Clayburgh’s daughter, Lily Rabe), demands hush money and is murdered in a gang-style killing in Los Angeles. In the movie, her killer is David’s elderly neighbor, a weirdo drifter named Malvern Bump (based on one Morris Black, and creepily acted by Philip Baker Hall), who does it as a favor. His dismembered remains are later found floating in Galveston Bay, and David himself is shown hacking up the corpse (he is tried for this crime, but gets off on a self-defense plea). Today, the real Robert Durst lives in luxury on a $65 million buyout from the family’s real estate dynasty, in exchange for staying as far away from his relatives as space and jet fuel allows.
How much of the elaborately nuanced script by Marc Smerling and Marcus Hinchey is factual and how much is conjecture is anybody’s guess. (I suspect a bit of both.) All Good Things doesn’t do much about deepening character or clarifying an already labyrinthine plot. But the period production values simulating the 1970s and 1980s are superb and the acting is mesmerizing. Mr. Gosling is a memorable study in unhinged self-destruction as a man driven to madness by an overbearing father and a suicidal mother, and Ms. Dunst is a sympathetic vision of damaged goods. Police Gazette sensationalism, court transcripts and eyewitness interviews build the hyperbole, but the two stars provide the human behavior between the lines. You go away slack-jawed with shock and sated with the chilling bedtime-story elements of a great unsolved mystery novel you can’t put down.
ALL GOOD THINGS
Running time 101 minutes
Written by Marcus Hinchey, Marc Smerling
Directed by Andrew Jarecki
Starring Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst, Frank Langella