Inspired by the stranger-than-fiction case of New York real estate scion Robert Durst and the never-solved 1982 disappearance of his wife, All Good Things marks the striking feature debut of documentary filmmaker Andrew Jarecki (Capturing the Friedmans). Like the recent I Love You Phillip Morris, not even the most creative Hollywood scribe could have dreamed up this tale. In both cases, truth turns out to be a lot weirder than even the pulpiest of fiction.
Durst stand-in David Marks (Ryan Gosling, in a welcome return to the screen) is a poor little rich boy in debt — financially and otherwise — to his slumlord father (a dependably strong Frank Langella). When David falls in love with the working-class Katie (a superb Kirsten Dunst), he naively decides to chuck the family fortune — and his junior position with the family's real-estate empire — to run a Vermont health-food store.
After failing as a granola entrepreneur, David has no choice but to return to New York and resume his demoralizing job with his dad's firm. (He's essentially a bag man, picking up rent money from sleazy tenants in the pre-gentrified Times Square of the 1970s.)
Back in New York, things eventually go from bad to worse to scary for the young couple. Katie wants to study medicine. She'd also like to start a family. But neither idea sits terribly well with David. Still reeling from the boyhood trauma of witnessing his mother's suicide (which he blames on his cold, autocratic father), David is convinced that the family genes are poisoned.
After Katie gets pregnant (oops!), he browbeats her into getting an abortion. And upon discovering that his wife has secretly applied to med school, David goes ballistic. Soon, Katie disappears, seemingly into thin air.
The film spans more than 30 years, with an extended sojourn in Texas, where David lives incognito after eluding a police investigation. The rich material could have been the stuff of a craptastic Lifetime movie, but Jarecki brings gravity to even the most outrageous moments.
At its best, All Good Things recalls Reversal of Fortune, another movie about malfeasance and possible murder among the Hamptons yacht set. Especially striking is how Jarecki and cinematographer Michael Seresin give the 1970s portions of the movie the same gritty texture of actual '70s benchmarks like The French Connection and Serpico.
Gosling's mercurial performance makes David creepy, funny, and perversely touching. And Dunst does some of the best acting of her career. The fact that the movie isn't likely to be a major player in this year's awards sweepstakes shouldn't dissuade you from seeing one of the best American films in recent months.