Film Review: All Good Things

Terrific fact-based drama covering the past three decades in the notorious missing-persons and murder cases involving as suspect and convicted perp the disgraced, bizarro real estate heir Robert Durst. Names are changed, but not a lot more.

Tabloid journalism got a great gift—and one that kept on giving—with the real-life, sprawling saga and devolution of Scarsdale-born New York real estate scion Robert Durst. Now, thanks to the engrossing All Good Things, audiences get a nifty cinematic gift from director Andrew Jarecki (the Oscar-nominated doc Capturing the Friedmans), who has fashioned a faithful if scrambled retelling of the scurrilous events that have “captured” headlines since the 1980s.

Jarecki, whose Friedmans was another true-life tale of Jews behaving badly, and writers Marc Smerling and Marcus Hinchey are almost religious in their adherence to the known facts of the Durst ordeal. Names are lightly altered (David for Robert, Katie for Kathy, Lehrman for Berman, Rizzo for Pirro, etc.) and the gaps in the three Durst-related investigations of an unsolved disappearance and murder and one conviction are plausibly filled in.

David Marks (Ryan Gosling), doing handyman work for his real estate magnate father Sanford (Frank Langella), meets teen Katie McCarthy (Kirsten Dunst) when plumbing fails in her New York apartment owned by the Marks empire. Although Katie is much younger than David, the two hit it off and are soon dating. They marry and try to make a life for themselves by running a health-food store in rural Vermont, far from the family business.

After Sanford lures David back to the fold (as the oldest Marks son, he is heir apparent), the couple buy a lakeside retreat in Westchester, a short commuting distance from their New York apartment. Like others of their generation, they smoke grass, do coke and party hard. But David’s refusal to have children is a blow to Katie, an Irish-Catholic from a middle-class Long Island family. She forlornly goes through an abortion and is soon pursuing a medical career.

The two grow distant, especially after Katie is accepted at a prestigious medical college. His deterioration has less to do with a father as cold and stern as Sanford as it does with David having witnessed his mother’s suicidal leap from a roof when he was a boy.

The marriage becomes so damaged that Katie, supported by family and good friend Lauren (Kristen Wiig), alerts others to the fact that she may be in danger. One night she disappears from the country house. David maintains she left for the New York apartment, but the film assigns him culpability. Katie is never seen again and, although no evidence emerges to implicate him, David becomes a suspect.

The pressure on David mounts when the Westchester County D.A. Janice Rizzo (Diane Venora in a role based on real-life D.A. Jeanine Pirro) reopens the disappearance case. As chief suspect and black sheep of the Marks family, David escapes to the offshore resort community of Galveston, Texas, where he does his own disappearing act. Cross-dressing as a woman and pretending to be mute, he settles into a nondescript boarding house and befriends creepy neighbor Malvern Bump (Philip Baker Hall). In another of the film’s speculations, he dispatches Malvern to Los Angeles to fatally shoot and shut up a family pal who demanded money for her silence.

Jarecki gets fine performances from all hands. Both Gosling (The Believer) and Langella (Starting Out in the Evening) again play Jewish quite convincingly and Dunst is the familiar shiksa. The film is also immensely helped by the decision to shoot on or near many of the locations where actual events unfolded.

In spite of its attention to detail and authenticity and its “inspired by a true story” disclaimer, the film recently, ahem, triggered a reported threat from the Durst Organization to sue the filmmakers and distributor if the film is released in its current state. The main beef apparently is defamation due to the depiction in the film that some of the real estate giant’s properties were sleazy Times Square porn-related operations. Hmmm, as some seasoned New Yorkers might respond.