The tabloid nickname writes itself: “The Millionaire Murderer.” Robert Durst, the eccentric heir to a real-estate fortune worth several hundred million dollars, has been questioned or tried over the fates of three different people: His first wife, who disappeared mysteriously in 1982 and never resurfaced, his closest female friend, who was found shot execution-style in Los Angeles in 2000, and an elderly neighbor in Galveston, Texas, whose body parts were found floating in the bay in 2001. Only that last crime yielded any prison time, and that was for improperly disposing of the body; a jury acquitted him on murder charges, convinced that he acted in self-defense. And these are just the broad outlines of a lurid story that includes cross-dressing, suicide, schizophrenia, and an almost Shakespearean level of family tragedy and treachery.
Making his narrative feature debut, Capturing The Friedmans director Andrew Jarecki seems like the perfect man for the job, someone skilled in finding the nuance and complicated blood bonds behind a sensationalistic story. But All Good Things, his long-on-the-shelf dramatization of the Durst case, proves disappointingly timid. With names changed to protect the innocent (and the most likely guilty), the film stars Ryan Gosling as David Marks, the reluctant heir to a property empire built mainly on Times Square properties of ill repute. In the early ’70s, a rebellious young David seeks to escape his destiny by marrying a commoner (Kirsten Dunst) and opening a health-food store in Vermont. But when the family business—led by his domineering father, played by Frank Langella—lures him back to New York, David’s behavior grows more erratic and his marriage starts to fall apart, making him a prime suspect when his wife disappears.
All Good Things is unambiguous about David’s guilt, but Jarecki and his screenwriters, Marcus Hinchey and Marc Smerling, work hard to detail the corrosive influences to David’s psyche, starting with having to witness his mother’s suicide at a young age. Yet their attention to motives that aren’t, in the end, all that sophisticated robs the film of any pulp momentum. Here’s a story about a man who befriended and eventually killed a Texan while going incognito as an exceptionally frumpy woman, then was eventually nabbed shoplifting a chicken-salad sandwich while carrying more than $500 in his pocket. Why underplay that?