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On Movies: 'All Good Things' tells a lurid story simply

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 22, 2010 - As you may have read by now -- in, among other places, the Sunday New York Times -- "All Good Things" is a dramatized version of the true story of Robert A. Durst, the scion of a wealthy New York real estate family who was suspected of killing his wife and two of his friends.

He was tried for one of the killings. I'll leave it to the movie to reveal which one, but I will say that Durst is now free, rich, and has seen the movie. He likes it, according to the Times, and thinks, on the whole, it does a good job of capturing his life, although he denies murdering his wife. The movie doesn't directly say he did, although it's hard after seeing it not to think the man got away with murder more than once.

Ryan Gosling, an under-recognized young actor with a world of talent, plays the protagonist, called David Marks, a psychologically abused and damaged rich kid who mostly keeps the anger burning inside him contained within a cool, bland exterior. He wants nothing so much as to escape the world of his father (the estimable Frank Langella), a ruthless wheeler and dealer in Times Square real estate both before and after the renovation and rebirth of the 1990s.

David meets a nice girl (Kirsten Dunst) and, despite his abusive father's raging disapproval, they get married and move to Vermont, where they open a health food store called All Good Things. They seem to be happy, but finally Marks can't resist the pressure from his father to come back to New York and help run the family business. He deals daily with the pimps and thieves and other criminals and shady operators who did business in Times Square. He becomes increasingly angry, both on the job and at home. He and his wife have bitter fights and then one day she disappears.

Leaving New York for the South, David becomes involved in a strange world of lost souls. Two of the few people close to him die violently. He is a suspect in both deaths, as well as in the disappearance and possible murder of his wife.

The story is a violent one, but director Andrew Jarecki ("Capturing the Friedmans") avoids exploiting the violence. Instead, with the help of a fine understated performance by Gosling, Jarecki focuses on the character of the studiously soft-spoken Marks, who almost quivers with the fury he tries to keep from rising to the surface.

Although perhaps too lacking in scope to be a great film, "All Good Things" is a good solid one, a lurid story told in a cool, non-lurid way. The film is almost matter-of-fact in its tone, like a good hardboiled mystery novel from one of the pioneers of the genre. It presents a fascinating portrait of the world of inherited East Coast wealth as well as the ghostly world of men hiding from their past in shabby Sunbelt flats. The acting is superb throughout.

"All Good Things" is coming out at the same time as most of the big contenders for year-end awards and may get lost in the shuffle, but it is well worth seeing.

Opens Wed., Dec. 22

Harper Barnes,; the author of Never Been A Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked The Civil Rights Movement, is a special contributor to the Beacon. 

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