All Good Things [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Magnolia Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (26th February 2012).
The Film

There is an inherent difficulty in bringing a true crime story to the big screen, and that is the fact that typically there’s only one person who knows all the facts. Regardless of how many eyewitness statements have been collected, character witnesses presented and circumstantial evidence recovered the bottom line is that only the one person accused of a crime truly knows whether or not they’re responsible for whatever may have occurred. While they often make for fascinating movies, viewers also need to be cognizant of the fact that filmmakers are practically required to take certain liberties with the material in order to produce a riveting, thrilling theatrical feature. This is precisely the case with “All Good Things” (2010), a film which examines the disappearance of real estate heir Robert Durst’s wife, Kathie Durst, who vanished in 1982 and has never been seen or heard from since. Despite the fact that all signs point to Robert as the culprit, there’s no evidence to prove he did anything wrong. The film presents an account of Kathie and Robert’s lives that will practically leave no room for doubt in anyone’s mind, but at the end of the day no body was ever recovered and Durst has never been formally charged with the crime. In this case, however, I think the filmmakers have done a commendable job in painting a portrait of a man who struggles with the person he is becoming – an ugly one at that – without directly implicating him in the crime. Director Andrew Jarecki, who did extensive research on the case, takes us through Durst’s life from the early 70's up through the early 2000's, but he resists the urge to condemn Durst as a cold-blooded killer.

In the film, however, Robert Durst is actually David Marks (Ryan Gosling). This was likely due to the fact that since many of the events in the film can’t be fully corroborated (what with Kathie missing and all), so by changing the names the filmmakers can skirt around the issue of libel. The film begins in the early 70's, as a young David meets his future wife, Kathie (Kirsten Dunst), when he goes to her apartment to attempt to fix a leaky faucet. Their relationship blossoms quickly, and David, tired of living in the shadow of his domineering real estate mogul father, Sanford (Frank Langella), moves with Kathie to Vermont where they open a health food store, which they name “All Good Things”. Their bliss is short-lived, though, when Sanford shows up and in not-so-many words demands that David return to New York City to work in the family business. Reluctantly, he does, and his already fragile psyche begins to crumble as the stresses of the corporate world, compounded by his increasingly distant personality, slowly reveal his true nature. He was scarred at a young age after witnessing his mother’s suicide, and although he’s tried to mask the pain and be an active member of society, the anguish he refuses to deal with turns him into a stoic monster. Eventually, Kathie can take no more of his mood swings, but right when it looks like things are going to end… she vanishes in 1982. The case goes cold with no body and no evidence to convict anyone until the District Attorney in New York decides to reopen the case in 2000, shining an unwanted light on Marks’ current existence in hiding.

If the first hour of the film doesn’t do enough to convince viewers that Marks is a troubled man, the last 40 minutes certainly will. After his wife’s disappearance, Marks goes into hiding by moving to Texas and living as a woman! Now tell me that doesn’t scream “I’ve got something to hide”. Despite his considerable wealth, David lives in a small, $300 a month unit in Galveston, TX, and his best friend is an elderly veteran, Malvern Bump (played by the great Philip Baker Hall). Now, here’s where the film takes some liberties with the facts. David, upon learning that his wife’s case has been reopened, receives a call from his closest family friend, Deborah (Lily Rabe), who informs him that the police want to speak with her and she’s willing to “tell them everything”. Soon after, Malvern is sent to Deborah’s home to kill her in return for David buying a home for the two of them to live in. David reneges on his offer, prompting Malvern to hold him up with a gun. David, claiming he acted in self defense, kills Malvern and dumps his body in the gulf. In real life, Robert Durst’s close friend, Susan Berman, was the basis for Deborah, and she was killed execution style in her Los Angeles home. No one has ever been charged with her murder. Strange that just as some of Durst’s skeletons are about to come out of the closet, the only person who might be able to confirm what happened to Kathie is killed. It’s hard to imagine this is simply coincidence

In the supplements, director Andrew Jarecki talks in great length about how much research went into drafting the film’s screenplay. Literally hundreds of people connected with the case were interviewed, which contributed immensely to the film’s narrative. Still, even thought the filmmakers have attempted to produce a film that is mostly unbiased… it’s still biased. It has to be. Whether it is how certain scenes are written, or how the actors emote on screen, people are doubtlessly going to be swayed into believing Marks is Kathie’s killer. And I’m ok with that because even a quick glance at the facts will make it painfully clear that, even if he didn’t kill Kathie, Marks knows what happened. There’s just too much against him, including testimonies from eyewitnesses who saw beneath Marks’ mask of sanity. Of course, when I refer to Marks I’m really referring to Robert Durst, just so we’re clear. I know it can be easy for one side to paint a picture condemning another, but there’s simply no doubt in my mind that Marks is aware of exactly what befell Kathie, and he isn’t talking.

I can’t say I was much of a Ryan Gosling fan until I recently saw him in “Drive” (2011, my favorite film of that year) and was blown away. Not by how much he could act, but by how little. In “Drive”, his character barely speaks enough lines to fill a page, but it’s how he’s able to convey strong emotions with his eyes, face and body that sold me on his abilities. Here, as David Marks, Gosling starts off the film as a fresh faced young man, eager to enjoy a quiet, peaceful life with his new wife in the country. Once he’s shepherded into the business world, his mind begins to warp and change. Gosling turns Marks from a promising young man into an emotionless, mute presence who flies into fits of rage so violent that they prompt his wife to threaten leaving him on many occasions. Here’s a man who had high hopes for himself – ideals of living a simple existence growing organic foods and living off the grid – but, as Sanford says in the film, David is a “weak man” who isn’t able to function at the level he’s expected to. What impressed me most about Gosling’s performance is that you can see the internal struggle within David. He doesn’t want to be the Mr. Hyde to his Dr. Jekyll, but something in his brain won’t allow him to shut it off, leading to outbursts of violence that he seems to immediately regret. Gosling is a strong actor, who can display great emotion without words, and his unsettling portrayal of Robert Durst is as psychologically confusing as it is chilling.

I can’t say I’ve ever been a big fan of Kirsten Dunst. She’s done some interesting indie films, but she’s best know for Sam Raimi's “Spider-Man” (2002-2007) films, and I’m in the minority who thinks those don’t hold up at all. I think this is some of the finest work she’s done so far in her career. Kathie is a free spirit, someone who comes from a working class family on Long Island, NY and accepts people for who they are. She doesn’t identify with David’s family who are distant and cold to each other. When she and David meet, there’s an instant chemistry and she fully accepts him regardless of his money and powerful family; those things don’t interest her in the least. She can tell David is slightly “off” when she asks him about possibly having children in the future, and he flat-out tells her it will never happen before walking away in disgust. From that point on, Dunst perfectly captures the struggle of a woman who loves her husband deeply, but his crumbling psyche drives a wedge between them. She deals with his outbursts through complacency while she works toward obtaining her doctorate and trying to get out from under David and his powerful family. When she’s gone, it’s hard to not feel a twinge of sadness in knowing that someone who seemed like such a free, loving spirit was snuffed out by a man who couldn’t handle the simple joys of life.

Many facts are laid out for viewers to use in determining where they stand on the case, but I think it’s evident that Kathie was killed and her body disposed of by Marks or his family associates. There are too many red flags to think he was simply unaware of what happened to her. His family is rich and well-connected, and that’s sometimes all it takes to make a “problem” disappear. It’s likely that no one will ever know what happened unless Durst decides to come forward or publish a deathbed manuscript detailing the events. The film doesn’t try to push viewers in one direction or the other, but the evidence is too compelling to ignore. Gosling and Dunst both excel in their performances, making this is an intriguing film that unfortunately went under most people’s radar when it quietly hit theaters in late 2010. It’s worth seeing as much as it’s worth reading up on the real life case of Robert Durst and the tragedy that befell his wife.

Video

“All Good Things” takes viewers through a period of over 30 years, and this features some varied aesthetics as a result. The film’s 1.78:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image opens with “vintage” 8mm footage that, while sufficiently graded and aged, looks sharp with good definition. From there, we’re taken to the 70's, where New York City’s grimy, grindhouse-era buildings and streets looks perfectly worn and tattered before the city cleaned itself up. The film is dominated by blue hues, providing an appropriately desolate and austere mood for the proceedings. It also perfectly complements David Marks’ increasing detachment from his wife and society as a whole. While the blue palette may be a recurrent visual, the film itself features some fine definition, especially in the scenes featuring Gosling in old age makeup. I was concerned it might not hold up under the scrutiny of high definition, but it did indeed. Black levels are never as deep & inky as I wanted them to be, but they hold up well enough that it isn’t likely to be a distraction. Film grain is minimal, and the image appears to be free of any bothersome visual tinkering like DNR or edge enhancement. While I wasn’t blown away with the picture quality, I will say that it’s a very competent image with few deficiencies.

Audio

Much like the film’s main character, the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit is a subtle menace. The soundtrack can swiftly change like David’s moods, going from tranquil to aggressive, such as when David loses his cool and violently smashes a chair against a wall, shattering glass and raining down books on the floor. I almost didn’t realize my surrounds were engaged until I actually walked over and put my ear up to them. The rear effects are similarly subtle, but they do such a seamless job of filling out the track that they almost went unnoticed. I think that speaks volumes (no pun intended) about the sound design. One anomaly that did bother me was near the beginning, when David is sent to fix a leaky pipe under Kathie’s sink. There’s a pervasive ringing/high-pitched sound throughout that one scene. It never occurs again, but it distracted me enough that I thought it was worth mentioning. Similar to the video quality, there’s nothing about this track that’s going to blow you away. It perfectly services the picture in every way it needs to. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Despite an almost total lack of theatrical support for this film (thanks to the Weinstein Co. acquiring it and continually shelving it), Magnolia has seen fit to give us a supplemental package that is essential for a film such as this. There are two audio commentaries (one of which is VERY intriguing), deleted scenes, featurettes, and numerous interviews with the filmmakers as well as the real life people who were close to both Robert Durst and his wife, Kathie Durst.

The first audio commentary is with director/producer Andrew Jarecki, co-writer/co-producer Marcus Hinchey and co-writer/producer Marc Smerling. This is the more technical of the two tracks, but it’s highly informative if you want to know more about the case. Each of these people has spent hours with the actual persons portrayed here, as well as having done in-depth research into the case itself. If you want to have some of the blanks in the film filled out, or gain a greater understanding of the crime, listen to this track.

The second audio commentary is with director/producer Andrew Jarecki and… Robert Durst? Surprisingly, yes, you’re reading that right. Robert Durst, the man this film is about, the man who many feel is responsible for the disappearance of his wife and other related crimes, sits down with the film’s director to discuss his life as it’s shown here. Don’t expect any major skeletons to come bursting out of the closet – he doesn’t confirm anything regarding Kathie’s vanishing act – but how crazy/awesome is the mere fact he’s participating here? I can’t think of a single commentary track that should entice people into hearing it more than this one.

A handful of deleted scenes (480p) are included for the following:

- “Doing the Dishes” runs for 1 minute and 9 seconds, Kathie tells her mom that David has asked to marry her.
- “Hospital Scene” runs for 45 seconds, a brief scene of Kathie working.
- “Polaroids” runs for 2 minutes and 27 seconds, Kathie finds weird photos David has been taking, and they come with an even more bizarre explanation.
- “Social Services” runs for 43 seconds, David applies for food stamps.

“All Good Things: Truth in Fiction” (480p) is a featurette that runs for 26 minutes and 7 seconds. This is largely a discussion about the film versus the reality of the situation. Some of the interview footage here has been repurposed from the extended interview with director Andrew Jarecki. It’s interesting if you want a quick overview of the events that transpire.

“Back in Time: Researching the Original Story” (1080i) is a featurette that runs for 22 minutes and 48 seconds. Much more interesting, and far too short, is this piece which features interviews with nearly a dozen people who are closely related to the case. Police officers, family members, attorneys, and close friends are all interviewed to give their opinion about the people portrayed in the film and to discuss what they were like in real life. Some great insight is given here, and since the filmmakers have stated they shot “hundreds of hours of footage” with these subjects, I wish it had been cobbled into something at least twice as long.

“Wrinkles in Time: Ryan Ages” (720p) is a featurette that runs for 1 minute and 45 seconds. This is just sped-up footage of Gosling being made into an elderly David Marks.

“Beneath the Surface of All Good Things” (1080i) is an interview featurette that runs for 58 minutes and 22 seconds. Director/producer Andrew Jarecki sits down for a very lengthy interview, which is broken up into chapters, to discuss every about making this film. It starts off with his extensive research & development and moves forward through all the facets of production. It can help one to appreciate the film more when you have a greater understanding of just how much leg work went into making sure this movie was written as accurately as possible.

Bonus trailers (1080p) are included for the following Magnolia releases:

- “Vanishing on 7th Street” runs for 2 minutes and 31 seconds.
- “Black Death” runs for 1 minute and 57 seconds.
- “Monsters” runs for 1 minute and 45 seconds.
- “Four Lions” runs for 2 minutes and 15 seconds.
- “HDNet promo” runs for 1 minute and 2 seconds.

The disc is enabled with the bookmarks feature, as well as being BD-Live enabled.

Packaging

The 50GB single disc comes housed in an amaray keep case with cover art that doesn’t quite convey the sinister tone of the film.

Overall

Fans of true crime dramas should eat this one up. Gosling and Dunst are both on top of their game here, doing a wonderful job of bringing these two very different people to life on the screen. The film tries to provide enough clues for viewers to determine their thoughts on what really happened, but in the end only one person really knows. If that isn’t enough, the bonus features are incredibly interesting; shedding light on some areas the film didn’t have time to cover. It’s a shame this went unnoticed when released because it’s a great example of seeing how a man can devolve into something that barely resembles what he once was.

The Film: B+ Video: B Audio: B+ Extras: A Overall: B+

 


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