Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Movie Review: All Good Things

All Good Things ***
Directed by:
Andrew Jarecki.
Written By: Marcus Hinchey and Marc Smerling.
Starring: Ryan Gosling (David Marks), Kirsten Dunst (Katie Marks), Frank Langella (Sanford Marks), Lily Rabe (Deborah Lehrman), Philip Baker Hall (Malvern Bump), Michael Esper (Daniel Marks), Diane Venora (Janice Rizzo), Nick Offerman (Jim McCarthy), Kristen Wiig (Lauren Fleck).

Ryan Gosling is one of the best actors of his generation, and he is constantly finding interesting material for himself. After The Notebook, he probably could have starred in a series of bigger movies – but for the most part, he has shunned that, and has focused on smaller movies with interesting parts for himself. A few years ago, I would have said that Kirsten Dunst was one of the best actresses of her generation – but personal problems have somewhat derailed her career. In All Good Things, these two talented actors are the reason to see the film – which is somewhat clichéd at times, and goes over the top a little near the end (although since it is based on a true story, I’m not sure you can blame the movie).

The movie opens in the 1970s, in a very different New York City than the one we know today. Times Square is basically a cesspool of crime – not the Disneyland it has become. Sanford Marks (Frank Langella) owns a lot of land in Manhattan – and in the Times Square area – and he wants to remake it. But until then, he is basically a slumlord. His son David (Gosling) seems like a sweet enough young guy. He has no interest in his father’s business, and wants to make his own way. One day, he is sent to the apartment of one of their tenants, Katie (Dunset), and the two fall quickly in love. You may think that Katie is a gold digger, but that’s not really true. She truly loves David, and wants to follow her own dreams as well. They quickly marry and decide to move out of the city, and into Vermont where they open a health food store. But Sanford isn’t happy with that, and eventually the pressure to join the family business is too much for David to stand.

It is around this point where it becomes clear that something is not quite right with David. He murmurs under his breath a lot, and cannot seem to maintain any kind of work schedule. His relationship with Katie gets rockier and rockier, as he descends further into whatever madness he has. And then, one day, Katie is simply gone.

Gosling is excellent in this movie. I think a lot of young actors look back at the films of the 1970s – like Taxi Driver for example – and envy the roles that were around then. David Marks is no Travis Bickle, yet is Bickle had come from a rich family, who really knows what he might have been like? What the two share is a descent in madness and violence – and it’s a descent that Gosling pulls off wonderfully in the film. For her part, Dunset starts out as the All American girl, from a loving home on Long Island, but being with David puts strain on her, and she starts to unravel a little bit as well – and tries to hold on.

The film was directed by Andrew Jarecki, who previous film was the excellent documentary Capturing the Friedmans. Perhaps what interested him about both stories was the seemingly normal surface that gives way to extremely dark secrets underneath. The film does devolve a little bit in its final half hour – it involves Gosling hiding from the police disguised as a woman – but even then, the strange tone of the film is maintained. It’s a fine directing job, yet the film does seem clichéd at times. We know where it is heading well before it gets there.

I mentioned at the top of the review that All Good Things is based on a true story, and it is, although the names have been changed. The film implies things that would get it in trouble had they used the real names (although the real life Marks family is still threatening to sue for defamation, although they have a weak case). Sometimes it seems life imitates art, and that seems to be the case here. If it wasn’t true, you may not believe where this movie ends up.

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