Movie Monday: ‘All Good Things’ in the Angelika

Murder in Texas?

Quick, name the artsy Ryan Gosling movie out now about a troubled man and his complex sexual relationship with a blonde — and they have sex in a shower. Yeah, maybe you said Blue Valentine, but you could have said All Good Things. Gosling’s character here trades up the social ladder but down the well-adjusted scale with AGT, inspired by the life of Texas-based killer (and sometime cross-dresser) Robert Durst.

Gosling plays the Durst character, here called David Marks, the scion of an abrasive, wealthy New York slumlord (Frank Langella). David reluctantly enters the family business once he meets Katie (Kirsten Dunst), basically serving as bag-man for his dad’s collections arm. Dad is disapproving of him, and looks disdainfully on Katie, which only exacerbates David’s isolation, as well as his spiraling psychological instability.

Read the rest of the review here.

DEETS: All Good Things. Rated R. 110 minutes. Angelika Film Center at the Mockingbird Station.

—  Rich Lopez

SCREEN REVIEW: ‘All Good Things’

DISAPPEARING ACTS | Katie (Kirsten Dunst) has a troubled relationship with David (Ryan Gosling) until both eventually disappear — she goes missing, and he begins living as a woman in Texas.

Murder in Texas?

… or maybe New York … or maybe not at all. Cross-dressing Durst case gets muddled, fictionalized investigation in the unfocused ‘All Good Things’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Quick, name the artsy Ryan Gosling movie out now about a troubled man and his complex sexual relationship with a blonde — and they have sex in a shower. Yeah, maybe you said Blue Valentine, but you could have said All Good Things. Gosling’s character here trades up the social ladder but down the well-adjusted scale with AGT, inspired by the life of Texas-based killer (and sometime cross-dresser) Robert Durst.

Gosling plays the Durst character, here called David Marks, the scion of an abrasive, wealthy New York slumlord (Frank Langella). David reluctantly enters the family business once he meets Katie (Kirsten Dunst), basically serving as bag-man for his dad’s collections arm. Dad is disapproving of him, and looks disdainfully on Katie, which only exacerbates David’s isolation, as well as his spiraling psychological instability.

Their turbulent relationship ends with Katie’s disappearance (her body is never found) and Marks himself goes into hiding, living as a woman in Galveston.

A sizeable problem with All Good Things is that it can’t seem to decide whether it is A Beautiful Mind (i.e., a portrait of mental illness and its tragic consequences) or Sleeping with the Enemy (a woman trapped in a marriage to a psychotic).

If the latter, director Andrew Jarecki should have watched more Hitchcock before undertaking this, his first narrative feature. Despite some violent outbursts, there’s no sense of menace about David. He’s disturbingly off, yes, and there are overt indications of his fury (he kills a dog), but Jarecki handles these scenes dispassionately, with a documentarian’s observational detachment. The stakes simply don’t seem all that substantial.

At its heart, this is a mystery that’s unknowable, not unlike  Jarecki’s Oscar-nominated documentary Capturing the Friedmans. It should be moody and enigmatic, but actually tries to explain too much. Eventually, it edges in the direction of Sleeping with the Enemy territory, and the style morphs from portrait to potboiler. By the time David turns up living as a woman, it seems more comical than creepy.

Credit Gosling with tackling the role of David, who’s inscrutable but also pretty dull, with conviction if not passion. In his old lady clothes, he looks like a slightly more animated version of Norman Bates’ mother. Dunst, Langella and Philip Baker Hall (as David’s crabby neighbor) deliver uninteresting performances of two-dimensional characters.

The true story of Durst, as reported in the media, is more bizarre than the movie can do justice to, and the armchair psychologizing (including a posited theory that seeks to say what really happened) feels forced, and the ending is unsatisfying. There’s a great movie in his story somewhere; too bad this one isn’t it. It just cannot compete with reality.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 21, 2011.

—  John Wright

Movie review: ‘Blue Valentine’

Although Blue Valentine is about the disintegration of a straight couple’s marriage, the themes, scenes and emotions it deals with could be out of any relationship: The awkward silences, the cold touches, the largely unspoken anger, the rebuffed affection, the meaningless disagreements. There are moments of tenderness, but they are made all the sadder because we see them in flashback. It’s over for these two.

I’ve been in this kind of relationship. I’m sure most people have. And it’s not pretty.

Sound like a happy film? Yeah, it’s not. But it is very real.

It’s also the kind of film that invites “process” reviews — that is, stories about the making of the film itself and its style: the hand-held camera and improvised dialogue resulting from weeks of off-set rehearsal with stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams (Heath Ledger’s widow), who lived together as a married couple for weeks to get into the skins of the characters. That accounts for the realism — authenticity trumps contrivance, character supersedes plot.

You can’t call that a bad thing, but it can be difficult to watch. Cindy (Williams) and Dean (Gosling) are a young couple with a sweet 5-year-old daughter, but their marriage is failing. In fact, by the time the movie begins, it’s basically over. Both from working-class backgrounds — Dean is a housepainter and mover, Cindy is a nurse — but Cindy seems to feel trapped by Dean’s lack of ambition. She likes his goofy charm, his grand acts of romanticism, but she doesn’t seem challenged by him. “I thought the whole point of coming here was to have a night without kids,” she snipes when he takes her to a fantasy motel and begins making animal noises. Ouch.

Director Derek Cianfrance approximates John Cassavetes’ patented way of creating pained realism not from meaningful dialogue or fancy camerawork, but by intense observation of small moments between people. He hops between the beginnings of their courtship and the dissolve with only subtle visual cues. He also allows Gosling and Williams to sparkle in their roles. Both are likely Oscar contenders, so intense and measured are their performances.

Blue Valentine isn’t the best date movie, but it is, in some ways, an ideal break-up movie, one that makes you feel you’re not alone in that pain.

Now playing at Landmark’s Magnolia Theatre in the West Village. Rated R (after an original NC-17 rating for explicit sex). 118 mins.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones