Mark Reviews Movies


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Andrew Jarecki

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst, Frank Langella, Lily Rabe, Philip Baker Hall

MPAA Rating: R (for drug use, violence, language and some sexuality)

Running Time: 1:41

Release Date: 12/3/10 (limited); 12/25/10 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 24, 2010

There is a massive swerve past the midway point of All Good Things that sends the movie down a new, far less involving path. The second half is at once unconventional and straightforward—the former because of the actual content, the latter in terms of structure in which it's presented. It is a shame, because until that shift, director Andrew Jarecki creates an oppressive atmosphere of seemingly endless wealth and the ruinous expectations that can come along with it.

The movie is based on a true story, though the names have been changed, as they say, to protect the innocent or to avoid the problems that might arise with such a damning portrayal of a man who has not been convicted of the many crimes screenwriters Marcus Hinchey and Marc Smerling condemn him of here. No matter how much money one has, it would never be enough to aid in the reversal the bad publicity the movie creates.

In this story, the man is called David Marks (Ryan Gosling), of the real estate empire Markses. For generations, his family has owned prime property in Times Square. Everyone knows them for their fortune, but much fewer know what they actually do to earn it.

David tries to fix the sink of a girl named Katie (Kirsten Dunst) and invites her to a family party, where patriarch Sanford Marks (Frank Langella) toasts to past, present, and future success, the need for an heir who stays true to the legacy, and a vision of Times Square revived to its former glory, away from the refuge for peep shows and porn theaters it has become. All the while, David and Katie have run away for a walk on the estate.

Theirs is a fast love affair, and he soon meets her family (He cannot get past the strangeness of everyone talking to each other, laughing, and enjoying each other's company) and asks her to marry him. They run off to Vermont, open a health food store, and live in blissful contentedness away from the city and the pressure of David's father, except for the occasions when he comes by for a guilt-trip visit (He leaves saying he is heading back to work: "How do you think my son can afford to live like this?").

Eventually, Sanford strikes a nerve, telling his son that Katie deserves and expected more from a life with him. After all, she is a beautiful woman, just like his mother was, so he sells his soul for a job with his father's firm and a penthouse apartment in the city.

David doesn't talk about his mother. It's one of many things the family doesn't bring up. They also don't discuss why David visits those places of ill repute on his trips for the company to Times Square to collect rent from leasers. Katie, poor soul, doesn't ask these questions, although she does page through her husband's ledger of collections. She can't help but ask David's old friend Deborah (Lily Rabe) about his mother when she brings her up in conversation.

Something is amiss with David—something people have noticed and for which he has sought help to no avail. Katie catches him mumbling to himself in the car, then later locking himself in a room and talking to himself. When Katie decides to attend medical school without mentioning the decision to him (They are living separate lives by now), David's first instinct is to strip to his underwear, jump in the water, and return a drifting boat—he doesn't want anyone to steal it. The pacing of Hinchey and Smerling's screenplay reveals the full extent of his issues in small steps, and Jarecki intercuts his slow breakdown with an older David testifying and the decisive image of garbage bags in the trunk of a car sitting on a bridge.

The mood slowly caves in on us, until the story moves inexorably toward the event we all fear is coming. At this point, the movie becomes less about the ambiance and more about the particulars of a few crimes—how David, now alone, maneuvers and manipulates his way into obscurity. The last half of the movie becomes so overburdened by David's peculiar behavior that it tosses aside the feeling of a psychological trap and takes on a dull, overly narrated account of affairs.

The shift, which turns the movie from a probing exploration of the effects of affluence into legal curio, is one from which All Good Things cannot fully recover. It's still an interesting story but a far less engaging one.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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