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Also “inspired by” true events, All Good Things is a missing-person mystery that alternately turns your stomach and holds you at a distance. Director Andrew Jarecki’s (Capturing the Friedmans) misshapen thriller is loosely framed by a trial that’s most often only disembodied voices, that of a prosecutor and an elderly David Marks, the son of a New York City property tycoon who made his money owning most of seedy Times Square in the 1970s.
David (Ryan Gosling, nerded up ’70s-style) never wanted any part of the business, but his father (Frank Langella) kept pushing, the hot button inevitably being David’s ability to provide for his wife, an aspiring med student named Katie (Kirsten Dunst).
But the more David works, the crazier he becomes. The problem is that, with Jarecki’s quotidian, emotionless storytelling, you may know that what unfolds is queasily wrong, but you probably won’t understand why it’s happening.
Unless, wait! “Why didn’t you pick me up?” David asks his father toward the end of the film. Could David’s descent into madness really just be about Daddy issues? More like Mommy issues. As in David’s mother killed herself and he saw the whole thing. When he meets Katie, David is weighed down by his father’s constant criticism and pressure to take up the family business but otherwise apparently normal. In fact, Katie makes him buoyant, and brave enough to follow his dream of opening a health-food store in Vermont. They get married and are happy, even after they move back to New York when David caves to Dad. Then Katie gets pregnant, and Dad’s properties gets raided, and, well, something trips in David’s mind. He and Katie become distant, and then Katie becomes really distant, as in nowhere to be found. So, naturally, David starts cross-dressing and killing people.
This leap into madness feels like a tenuous one, communicated mostly through David’s serial-killer looks (greasy bad haircut, huge glasses) and general reticence. With this script, there’s not much the usually excellent Gosling can do. Dunst fairs better as the perplexed spouse, one racked with grief when she discovers that David doesn’t want kids and who eventually wants to move on with her life, though Marks family lawyering makes that a nearly impossible option. Dunst has one particular stellar scene in a nightclub after a traumatic event, unable to be polite to some gabby friends who invite themselves to their table and later chair-dancing to disco, coked-up but still obviously devastated.
The film, thus far a decent story of love going bad, nose-dives when Katie disappears and Crazy David emerges —his unraveling happens too quickly, too cartoonishly to be satisfying. The most consistent aspect of All Good Things is the cinematography, mostly shots of inky night and a Times Square so scuzzy you’ll feel dirty watching it. But by the end of the story, dirtiness is just about all you’ll feel.