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Movie Review

All Good Things

A haunting study of a souring marriage

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By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / December 22, 2010

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In “All Good Things,’’ the eerily talented actor Ryan Gosling plays David Marks, scion of a wealthy Manhattan real estate family and a tormented lost soul. The character is based closely on Robert Durst, who was implicated but never charged in both the 1982 disappearance of his wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, and the 2000 murder of his friend Susan Berman. Neither case was ever solved, but in 2003 Durst was acquitted of the murder of a man named Morris Black. (He eventually went to prison for evidence tampering.) Durst claimed he acted in self-defense. The movie says otherwise.

Actually, the movie shouts otherwise, creating in its last half hour a dark-and-stormy tale of homicidal intent and cross-dressing eccentricity. Those final scenes constitute an entirely different film from the first two-thirds of “All Good Things,’’ and, ironically, a bloodier and more ordinary one. Shame about that, but it indicates that director Andrew Jarecki is capable of better things.

Jarecki is a former businessman — he founded Moviefone — who caught lightning in a bottle when his short film about party clowns turned into the riveting 2003 documentary “Capturing the Friedmans.’’ (His brother is “Why We Fight’’ director Eugene Jarecki.) This is his first narrative feature, and there are some very good things in it, specifically the depiction of a spiraling marriage that takes up most of the film’s running time.

Gosling’s Marks is a tremendously touching creation — a withdrawn golden boy who shrinks from everything he’s heir to and who briefly finds in Katie McCarthy (Kirsten Dunst) a normality he’ll never grasp. As excellent as Gosling is — and the actor conveys the stillness of the man as well as the voices screaming in his head — Dunst matches him stride for stride. The real dramatic arc of “All Good Things’’ is Katie’s, as she changes over the years from open-faced cheerfulness to a crushed spiritual death.

Dunst has never been so good, and if the movie were about the rise and fall of a couple’s marriage (as is, oddly, Gosling’s other 2010 release, “Blue Valentine’’), it might have been enough. But Jarecki wants to tell the whole true-crime story, and with Katie’s disappearance “All Good Things’’ jumps off track to become more routinely ghoulish fare: a made-for-TV tabloid melodrama. (Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the film went to cable on-demand before making its theatrical debut.) Some pieces work: Michael Seresin’s bruised cinematography, the performances of Frank Langella as David’s forbidding father and Lily Rabe as his cynical, doomed friend, here named Deborah Lehrman. Others, not so much: Gosling’s old-age makeup is absurdly unconvincing and the score by Rob Simonsen never lets up on the Hitchcockian eek-eek-eek.

Buried in the folds of “All Good Things’’ is a vivid, insightful portrait of New York after the fall and before Disneyfication. The Marks fortune comes from its Times Square real estate holdings, and one of David’s jobs in the 1970s scenes is to visit the no-tell hotels and porn theaters to collect the dirty-money rent. Jarecki and his writers feint at a larger civic drama — Diane Venora plays a crusading Westchester DA based on Jeanine Pirro — but mostly let it lie.

Too bad: At its creepazoid best, the movie suggests its hero could round a corner and come face to face with a doppelganger named Travis Bickle. Jarecki’s not remotely in Scorsese’s league yet, but he knows New York and he has seen the dark soul of man. Maybe next time he won’t blink.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com.

ALL GOOD THINGS Directed by: Andrew Jarecki

Written by: Marcus Hinchey and Marc Smerling

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst, Frank Langella

At: Kendall Square

Running time: 101 minutes

Rated: R (drug use, violence, language, some sexuality)

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