Thursday, January 6, 2011

Class, madness, murder: A family story

When charm curdles, so does the marriage. So what does it mean when the wife disappears?

It's immediately interesting that All Good Things is the first dramatic feature from documentary filmmaker Andrew Jarecki, known to movie audiences for the mesmerizing Capturing the Friedmans, which told the story of a Long Island child molestation scandal. * Jarecki, whose provocative documentary proved that he knew something about dysfunctional families, turns his attention to another strange collection of relatives in this generally interesting take on a story based on the life of Robert A. Durst, heir to a New York real estate empire. Durst was convicted of a slaying in Texas, and more to the movie's point, was suspected of murdering his wife Katie, who disappeared in 1982. * Jarecki has attracted a powerful cast to his dramatic debut: Ryan Gosling plays David, the character based on Durst. Frank Langella portrays his businessman father, and Kirsten Dunst portrays Katie, a young woman who initially is charmed by David, but who increasingly becames frightened of him. * The movie takes its name from the health food store that David and Katie open in Vermont during the early days of their marriage. But David eventually is lured into daddy's business, which has its shady aspects and which seems to bring out the worst in him. * Gosling appears in Blue Valentine, a much better portrait of a troubled marriage, but he gives his usually effective performance, and Dunst makes us understand Katie's conflicted attitude toward her husband. * Jarecki uses the movie to speculate about what happened to Katie, and he does a nice job illuminating class distinctions between Katie and the family into which she marries. But the movie's sum never exceeds the strength of its parts, and All Good Things winds up an also-ran in the plethora of year-end releases that's spilling over into 2011.

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