Thursday, January 06, 2011

All Good Things

Stand Off

I can't recall another film that got billed as a romantic mystery, so my curiosity was piqued just to see how All Good Things got to be positioned as such. Written by Marcus Hinchey and Marc Smerling, this film is inspired by the life of Robert Durst, an heir to a New York real estate magnate whose wife Kathleen McCormack disappears under mysterious circumstances, and is still missing as of today. Directed by Andrew Jarecki, without this chilling real life episode and background, it could just have been an ordinary film if not for the wonderful, engaging performance by leads Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst.

Set between the 70s and last decade in New York City, David Marks (Gosling) falls in love with a pretty working class girl Katie (Dunst), whose marriage and union is perfect on the surface, if not for the objection of his real estate tycoon father Sanford Marks (Frank Langella) whose elitist status and snobbish behaviour brings about some tension as he frowns upon his son's lack of ambition and choice of wife from a lower social standing. I felt the story played out somewhat like a massively violent Revolutionary Road as we witness the disintegration of a beautiful relationship, as slowly but surely David reveals a much darker side to his being that in some instances will shock you as he dishes out unadulterated violence on his wife.

I suppose it's a different era then with the stigma of a divorce, on one hand Katie's separation allowed her to pursue her studies in medical school, while on the other perhaps it was the money, which never once stood in the way to corrupt her affections for him, much needed now to fuel her lifestyle of drug addiction. Harbouring hopes to bear a child for the Marks family, this was keenly rejected by David, and pointing to the very first signs of trouble, as it keeps you guessing just how his traumatic witnessing of his mother's demise had shaped his psychological well-being. Hints were dropped of course, and it's nothing short of chilling in Hitchcockian terms.

As with all real mysteries, this film can only suggest what could have happened without being obtuse or definitive about it, with routines played out that only formed speculation. Andrew Jarecki, better known for his superb documentary Capturing the Friedmans, almost played this out in documentary fashion, as we catch glimpses of a much older David narrating to lawyers just how events had unfolded, albeit shedding little light on the atrocities that were committed, whether with his involvement, or not. Gosling shines in the role here as he tackles the mentally disturbed David sliding into a worsening condition, with that non-remorseful demeanour hiding a creepy secret that's primed for a surprise in the last act.

But between the two, Kirsten Dunst outshone Gosling. She launched her career starring opposite the likes of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in Interview with a Vampire, and after arty fare like The Virgin Suicides, would probably be better known for her on-off relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal then, and of course her role as Mary Jane Watson in the Spiderman blockbuster trilogy. She disappeared for a while to check into rehab for depression, and returns with what is arguably her best performance and role to date, playing the wide-eyed girl full of hope and dreams to be married, but finding out in a snap that her beau is definitely not what he seems, plotting an escape that didn't quite go her way, and what more her character's mysterious disappearance which takes her out of the equation in the narrative.

It is the strong portrayals by the leading cast members that make All Good Things compelling to sit through, with the thought that something similar had already happened, an open case without a resolution, and one of the mysteries that continue to remain unresolved.

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