Focusing on a notoriously unsolved, real life disappearance, All Good Things earnestly attempts to present the events in detail without significant emotional embellishment or motivation. Unfortunately, as a result, its lead character is never identifiable, and the film loses a bit of its dramatic bite.
Tension arises when David (Ryan Gosling), the oddball son of Manhattan real estate tycoon Sanford Marks (Frank Langella), falls for an apartment tenant named Katie (Kirsten Dunst). “She’s never going to be one of us,” elder Sanford growls, suggesting intense disapproval at the relationship. Of course, it isn’t long before wedding bells ring. Afterwards, the two stray from the city, but are cajoled back when the imposing father figure insists David carry on the family business. As the years pass and Katie presses for a family, David becomes stranger and more aloof. Soon, Katie disappears, never to be seen again.
Director Andrew Jarecki (who helmed the acclaimed documentary Capturing the Friedmans) keeps David Marks at arm’s length, never penetrating much beyond the surface. Perhaps this is due to the filmmaker’s documentary background, but as a result we never truly get inside David’s head. It is clear that he has “problems” as a result of witnessing his mother’s suicide, but beyond muttering, lashing out in rage and showing some vague signs of a personality disorder, viewers aren’t given any significant access.
Much emphasis is given to the tension between David and Sanford early, but peters out as the father comes to show sudden affection towards Katie. Beyond an important conversation revealing the details of David’s childhood trauma, it is a wonder why so much emphasis is placed on the father/son relationship in the first half of the film, as it seems to have little immediate relation to the unfortunate events that transpire later.
Jarecki’s film has some interesting sequences, though. There are some tense moments as David’s marriage crumbles, leading to audience anticipation of an inevitable murder. Later scenes depicting the aristocrat on the run, hiding out and living life using a female persona, are equally unexpected and taut, especially when some threats are made by an acquaintance to give information to the authorities. These scenes are well scored by Rob Simonsen, in a manner reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann, and Gosling emits a detachment that effectively builds into creepiness as the story progresses.
Still, by simply presenting this information without delving more deeply into David’s character, the technique doesn’t quite engage as well as it could. If explicit responsibility for these unsolved crimes is placed largely on one man’s shoulders (with a scene actually depicting a murder and its aftermath), one would expect some attempt, however conjectured, to understand his motivations and involve the viewers.
All Good Things certainly features solid performances and some interesting moments, spinning a tale that at points is so outrageous it is difficult to believe that it actually occurred. But there’s something empty and distancing about the presentation that prevents it from achieving excellence, leaving a missed opportunity more appropriate for home viewing than a night out at the cinema.
3 out of 5