Ryan Gosling is, as almost always, mesmerizing, and he’s backed by an exceptional supporting cast in “All Good Things,” but Andrew Jarecki’s picture doesn’t meld its mixture of fact, speculation, psychoanalysis and brooding atmosphere into a convincing whole. The story of troubled heir and suspected killer David Marks is the sort of thing one might expect to see portrayed in a cable-TV movie, and though the treatment by Jarecki is far more ambitious and artful, it’s not much more successful than a Lifetime version might have been.
Marks (Gosling) was, of course, the son of NYC real-estate mogul Stanford Marks (Frank Langella), who planned on having him join the business. David, who was clearly a troubled young man—partly, it’s suggested here, because he’d witnessed his mother’s suicide—thwarted his dictatorial father’s wishes not only by wedding Katie (Kirsten Dunst), an effervescent young woman below their social class, but by moving with her to Vermont to open a health-food store.
But under pressure from dad, the couple return to the city and David becomes a rent collector in some of Manhattan’s seedier areas—a responsibility he has difficulty handling, putting strain on the marriage. Marks becomes abusive, both mentally (urging Katie to have an abortion, most notably) and even physically. And as the relationship deteriorates, Katie disappears.
Whereupon David flees New York for Galveston, Texas, where—sometimes dressing in women’s clothes and pretending to be mute—he takes a room under an assumed name in a boarding house and becomes friendly with oddball neighbor Malvern Bump (Philip Baker Hall), a rough-edged curmudgeon low on resources. More deaths follow, and Marks winds up in court, though the outcome is at best mixed.
Gosling, one of the most interesting actors working today, skillfully handles the myriad demands of the role—which involve everything from playing the young David in 1971 and the older husband of 1982 (the year of Katie’s disappearance) to the far older man of 2003, haltingly answering questions on the witness stand (a device used periodically throughout to set up the various episodes). It’s an intelligent, nuanced turn. And Jarecki matches him with a flurry of tricks—inserting home movies, shuffling the chronology, and encouraging cinematographer Michael Seresin to pump up the menacing, sometimes (as in the eighties Times Square shots) garish atmosphere. The rest of the cast is strong, too, with Langella adding to his gallery of morose, manipulative elder statesmen, while Hall giving a rousing performance as the volatile Bump. And Dunst is superb as the ill-fated Katie, catching the character’s initial naïve exuberance and earning sympathy as the relationship with Marks goes sour.
But ultimately “All Good Things” (the name of the store the Marks runs in Vermont) is too honest in its complexity and ambiguity. It’s admirable that the screenplay, and Jarecki, are so attuned to the vagaries of what happened and unwilling to simplify things to achieve easy dramatic closure. But unfortunately it’s the film’s failure to provide secure answers, telefilm style, that leaves it feeling unsatisfying. It isn’t that the makers don’t have opinions about what actually happened; they do. But they present them gingerly, leaving much to the imagination. As a result the film lacks the stunning sense of resolution that marked Jarecki’s documentary, “Capturing the Friedmans.”
So there’s much that’s intriguing about “Things.” But despite another fascinating performance by Gosling, it’s not all good—more like a near-miss.