There are four little words that seem to carry far too much weight in the film industry: BASED ON A TRUE STORY.
While Hollywood might see those words as a stamp of authenticity, audiences have long since learned to take them with a heavy pinch of salt. The horror genre might be the worst offender for ambitious stretching of the words “true story”, but other genres are often equally guilty of warping real life events into a dramatised big-screen reimagining.
In All Good Things, that’s apparently what we get. Inspired by the story of accused murdered Robert Durst, the story concerns the life of David Marks (Ryan Gosling), his marriage and the subsequent disappearance of his wife, Katie (Kirsten Dunst). Told from a modern day perspective, we hear David Marks’ account of his life, and watch the events of several decades of his life unfold.
The real-life events the movie was based upon are fascinating, and All Good Things starts out with remarkable promise. Gosling in particular strikes a chord with his layered approach to an incredibly complex character, and Dunst as Katie Marks is every bit as charming – and tragic – as the story demands. Although despite two solid performances from its stars, All Good Things rings just a little hollow, and the glaring errors it makes aren’t easy to dismiss.
David Marks as a character begins as a sweet, kind young man with one or two personal demons, and by the movie’s end we’re being sold on him as a cold, ruthlessly calculating killer. It’s an arc that makes sense, although All Good Things doesn’t present it as such. It almost feels as though there’s a section of the film missing, some key event that triggers a drastic change in Marks’ personality – so sudden and unexplained is the character’s fall from our good graces. One minute, he’s a quietly charming young husband, the next he’s violent and erratic and downright creepy. Gosling sells all of these traits in the most believable fashion, but narratively, they’re jarringly thrown together without so much as a how-do-you-do.
There’s also the matter of the movie’s bizarre approach to ambiguity. As necessary as it may be in order to neither condemn nor sympathise with Marks’ real life counterpart, All Good Things was seemingly unable to decide on whether to remain entirely ambiguous or to lead the audience to a particular conclusion, and so it attempted to do both. While having Marks maintain his innocence in the present-day segments, it also painted him a calculating schemer with its story, leading to a confusing juxtaposition that soured what was an otherwise intriguing movie with some truly commendable performances.
All Good Things tried its hardest to deliver facts while simultaneously distancing itself from reality. It tried to make us sympathise with a man while vilifying him, and it tried to deliver an ending to an (as yet) unresolved case.
Summary: An (over)ambitious representation of a real life case, All Good Things boasts impressive performances from its stars, but ultimately falls short in its execution.
There’s a strange, real life footnote to the movie’s story: Robert Durst, the inspiration for David Marks, admired the movie so much that he gave director Andrew Jarecki the chance to interview him – something which he’d always refused to do for the media. After the filming of the interviews – that became 2015 miniseries The Jinx – Durst seemed to unintentionally confess to several murders with his microphone still recording. New evidence brought to light during the making of The Jinx led to Durst’s arrest in connection to the death of Susan Berman, and Durst is still awaiting trial for murder.