Sadly, All Good Things is anything but — Jarecki doesn’t know what to do with Ryan Gosling who spends the majority of the film emotionally defunct, scattered expressions and muddled actions leave the story flat and uninteresting. Kirsten Dunst and Frank Langella are underutilized; often no more than simple plot props instead of characters allowed to breathe, emote, and connect with the entangled premise.
This is the story of David Marks, the heir to a New York real estate fortune who is suspected of murdering his wife, Katie (Dunst) after she disappears without a trace from their Westchester home. We learn that her body was never found. We also learn that the actual person based on this fictional character is still live – but we won’t get into that. As the story progresses, and David spirals deeper and deeper into the abyss of Asperger syndrome – and a little psychosis – he escapes to Galveston, Texas where he befriends his neighbor Malvern Bump (Philip Baker Hall) and together they hatch a plan to get rid of a friend who threatens to unravel his many deceptions. Bump stands to benefit as well, though his character is sketchy at best and their relationship doesn’t go anywhere but homicide. If you’re a bit confused by all this or otherwise feeling disenfranchised, you’re not alone – the plot clumsily follows the true story a little too faithfully at times, or perhaps it is Jarecki who gets derailed and fails to realize bizarre doesn’t supplant character any more than uncertainty can stand in for clever. Jarecki might best be known for his Oscar nominated documentary film, Capturing the Friedmans (2003) about a family accused of child molestation – All Good Things is his first time in the feature film director’s chair and often it shows. Jarecki connects fact and fiction similarly to the way Oliver Stone presupposed various conspiracy theories, interpretations and his own thoughts and ideas about the details of the Kennedy assassination for his film JFK. Like Stone, Jarecki makes a lot of speculative, creative choices in the telling of this tale though it is quite obvious he hasn’t the chops, characters, or story as Stone and JFK. In this case the particulars of the real events and the person himself are rigid and cumbersome; it is challenging whether to remain detached as if watching a crime procedural or closer in, connected to the characters with a genuine interest in their story. By the end you walk away, perplexed, feeling like you’ve been had for your investment.
The problem with examining the psychological scheming of an introvert is that a lot rides on the protagonist; simply put, Marks is a bad man who never quite reaches the level of charisma that is required to keep us connected to his journey. Anthony Hopkins gave Hannibal Lecter depth and magnetism that ascended the vicious brutality of his actions. Marks is odd, an awkward and troubled social misfit who behaves as though on auto pilot and his brutality only seems to fuel his peculiar behavior without serious consideration. While Gosling gives words to silence, investing in the value of expression, he is unable to father the fledgling character beneath the veneer and consequently we’re required to invest in a story that fails to pay off.
Mr. Jarecki is a documentary filmmaker who misreads the purpose and power of fictional films, attempting to and ultimately failing at threading fact, fiction and drama into a cohesive cinematic experience. All Good things meanders far too long on the mundane, struggles to elevate ordinary and loses track of the role of engaging characters with redemptive pursuits. Further to that point, the story stumble-steps like snapshots, like memory without the benefit of caring about abrupt beginnings or endings; the film seems to stop so quickly that it too shutters without so much as a suggestion of finality.