November 30, 2010

No Good Things

by Vadim Rizov

All Good Things

There are four main points of interest in All Good Things. The first is that it's actually being released after years in the Weinsteins' post-Miramax purgatory (director Andrew Jarecki was forced to buy the film back). Secondly, it's Jarecki's follow-up to Capturing the Friedmans, one of the most discussed documentaries of the last decade or so, thereby automatically meriting attention for his first narrative feature. Next on the list is that it's based on the true four-decade saga about one Robert A. Durst. His and everyone else's names have been changed, but the film strives to stick to the historical record, as befits a documentarian; it's been sourced carefully, the factual gaps bridged with conjecture, which is a shrewd idea to effectively present someone as a triple-murderer. In retelling the tale of how Durst (here "David Marks") married, made his first wife mysteriously disappear, and wound up some twenty years later with a dead roommate chopped up and found in Galveston Bay, we have some lurid pulp effectively defanged of all thrills. This is as boring as multiple homicide gets, dramatic material inexplicably presented as listless social drama. Unhappy son, blame dad and brood; familiar terrain.

All Good ThingsThe fourth and biggest attraction, though, is the presumably one-off implosion of Ryan Gosling, one of the most talented—or at least compulsively watchable—actors of his generation. Whole movies with potentially unworkable premises are transformed by his radical energy. In The Believer, Gosling attempted (and succeeded!) in delineating a self-loathing Jewish neo-Nazi. Following that, he made Barbet Schroeder's slickly workmanlike Murder By Numbers more compelling than "Sandra Bullock vs. Leopold and Loeb" had any right to be. He bounced right off Michael Pitt's creepy gaze and passivity; the two actors, one year apart in age, couldn't be more different in their approach. Pitt sits, demanding attention for his stupor while Gosling fidgets, rants and raves. Mediocre TV-movie-of-the-week fare like Fracture is elevated by his energy, and potentially saccharine Sundance movies become acting master classes like Half Nelson. To the public at large, Gosling may never become more famous than his dreamboat role in The Notebook, a problem he has compensated for by forming the band Dead Man's Bones. "I made a couple movies because I had to," Gosling explained, betraying a Brando-esque boredom with a craft that seems to come too easily to him.

Andrew Jarecki That comparison plays because All Good Things is centered around a performance that seems like an impersonation of Brando as a discontented rich kid, or a rich kid channeling the godfather as a stereotypical expression of discontent. It's impossible to tell which, and either way, it's semi-disastrous. Blame Jarecki: it takes a lot to make a movie so dull that Gosling cross-dressing doesn't register at all. It's a case study in making every wrong decision, down to the grandest gesture (characterization-wise) of having his rich-boy millionaire irritably, compulsively hand-roll his cigarettes. "Look," he's saying, "I'm wealthy and can afford imported cancer sticks, but I'm smoking the lowest of the low." Truly, the upper class can be eccentric in their self-imposed impoverishment, a trait strenuously conveyed here at every turn. He glowers and fidgets; if he had a glove to play with, he'd pull it over his hands like it was On The Waterfront all over again.

All Good Things Watching All Good Things might transform you into a Beastie Boy, screaming "WHYYYYYYYY?" at the screen as the "tragedy" unfolds bit by bit. The story, such as it's knowable, is depicted with an eye towards accuracy. It's pretty much what you'd expect from a documentarian turning his hand towards fiction, and Jarecki's utter failure is equally predictable: few doc filmmakers make the leap with any degree of success (Errol Morris comes to mind as one of the more prominent gaffers). Where Capturing the Friedmans undermined a sensational child-molestation story from every angle, producing real-world ongoing repercussions (even now, the affair's being reopened for investigation), All Good Things takes a similarly mysterious tale and proceeds to say, "Yes, everything you thought was true probably is." Rarely has a filmmaker swung from curiosity to smug sureness so drastically between projects.

All Good Things Watching Gosling stammer his way through the performance, you can see all those years of discipline and the rigorous thinking-through of roles falling apart. One of the great thrills in watching him work is the implicit battle of wills between director and star. He seems like a pain to collaborate with, someone who won't make it easyby stubbornly saying what he might or might not do. In Fracture, his scenes are filmed from far back, rarely cutting, giving him space; it's a completely different aesthetic from the rest of the film. In All Good Things, Gosling seems pinned down, both literally (in his courtroom testimony, filmed from a disorienting angle hovering over his head and tilted slightly down, trapping him from above) and figuratively (by how inanimate the film is). The editing is so super-aggressive that Jarecki often cues the next scene's dialogue a good ten seconds ahead of schedule. All that aggression would normally be provided by Gosling; here, Jarecki takes point. The director and actor never appear to be on the same page.

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Posted by ahillis at November 30, 2010 11:25 AM