If Robert Durst is indeed convicted of first-degree murder, in a way, he’ll have All Good Things to thank. Durst was such a fan of the 2010 film based on his life that he offered its director, Andrew Jarecki, an exclusive sit-down interview. That interview became The Jinx, which (LAPD aside) almost certainly uncovered the evidence that led to Durst’s arrest on Saturday for the murder of his friend Susan Berman. That’s a better legacy than most movies with a 32 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating can manage.
All Good Things had the bad fortune to come out around the same time as Blue Valentine, and the two movies were superficially similar enough (Ryan Gosling, class tensions, love gone wrong) that Good Things got slept on a bit, at least until The Jinx premiered and reminded everyone of its existence again. But that TomatoMeter score doesn’t lie — it is not a very good movie. It’s not incompetent by any means, it just … never really comes together. As “David Marks,” Ryan Gosling pulls off aspects of the Durst persona — he’s believable as a moony hippie, a deranged psychopath, and an eccentric old man — but he has trouble finding a through-line that unites them. (He also misses Durst’s patrician arrogance, though perhaps Jarecki had to meet the man in person to notice that.) Its pacing is also slightly off: Jarecki spends the first three quarters of the film on the disintegration of Marks’ marriage, then rushes through the Berman and Morris Black killings (here they’re “Deborah Lehrman” and “Malvern Bump”) out of biographic necessity.
Even though it paints him as a murderer, it’s easy to see why Durst enjoyed the film. In this telling, Marks was an idealistic dreamer who had no interest in his father’s corrupt real-estate empire, whose erratic behavior was the result of a tragic battle with mental illness, and whose utter disinterest in procreating was a noble effort to avoid passing on his disorder. And Jarecki downplays the worst of his crimes, likely for legal reasons. The murder of Marks’ wife (played by a great Kirsten Dunst) is artfully elided, and his role in her disappearance is only implied. Here Lehrman is a desperate blackmailer, and Jarecki places Marks’ guilt at one level of remove by making Malvern Bump her assassin. Bump’s own death flatters Durst’s trial account — he really did have a gun! — and the film seems more impressed than angry when Marks is able to get off by claiming self-defense.
But there are still pleasures to be had from watching All Good Things now, from Lily Rabe’s gushy portrayal of Lehrman — instantly recognizable from her thick black bangs — to Jarecki’s habit of cutting to isolated tidbits of action, which plays as a rehearsal for the reenactments in The Jinx. And there’s one moment of dramatic irony that had me do a spit-take right at my screen: As Marks begins muttering to himself during a romantic midnight drive, his wife turns to him and asks, “Why do you always talk to yourself so much?”
Right now, the real Robert Durst is likely asking himself the same question.