All Good Things: Did Judith Light Kill Spider-Man’s Girlfriend?

12/16/2010 9:41 AM |

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As the year in film draws to a close, Henry Stewart is scrambling to catch up with some of the movies he missed, so he can tell you whether to bump them up in your queue or feel guilt-free for deleting them.

All Good Things boasts something more alluring than its heavy-hitter cast (including not just Ryan Gosling and Frank Langella but also Philip Baker Hall!): it also packs the lurid appeal of its true-crime subject matter—already fodder for a Law & Order episode—in which the names have been changed so screenwriters Marcus Hinchey and Marc Smerling can be as speculative and trashy as they wanna be. In real life, Robert Durst was investigated for the disappearance of his wife; in All Good Things, David Marks murders his wife (Kirsten Dunst). After killing the dog. It’s left to the viewer to decide which was worse.

For director Andrew Jarecki, who made his name with Capturing the Friedmans, this is yet another story of privileged white people with dark sides. Gosling plays the scion of a real estate baron (Langella, imperious), a member of the family that has owned half of Times Square since it was farmland—Old Money that sips cocktails with the Moynihans and tells Abe Beame what to do. But Gosling’s the black sheep, a pothead who runs a health food store in Vermont, leading a back-to-the-land lifestyle before being sucked back into the Manhattan maelstrom. He has a dark side not even primal scream can calm; Gosling plays him with a composure that, after a certain point, always seems on the edge of cracking.

The acting all around is restrained, a counterpoint to the hammy aesthetic. The torn-from-the-tabloids movie unfolds as a flashback (though not quite in flashbacks), narrated by Gosling’s courtroom testimony many years in the future; Jarecki shoots it like an Unsolved Mysteries recreation, layering on Rob Simonsen’s ominous, antsy, positively Hermannesque string score. He knows material this whacky needs a sesationalistic-ish style to boot. Let the actors keep it grounded; when the movie jumps forward to Galveston near the present, it finds Marks living in drag—and Ryan Gosling looking positively Judith Lightian. Jarecki has to pile on the menacing airs, yet steer clear of camp—even as he’s Tootsifying an uxoricide potboiler. You can’t help but be impressed, even just a little.