After Seeing THE JINX, ALL GOOD THINGS Falls Flat
Director Andrew Jarecki crafted one of the most entertaining pieces of documentary television ever with HBO's The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, which aired its sixth and final episode two Sundays ago on March 15th. If you haven't seen it, I'd highly recommend dropping everything and binge-watching the series as soon as possible. It's a wildly entertaining piece of filmmaking that deserves to be seen and discussed, and the show turned into a pop culture phenomenon when Durst was arrested the day before the finale aired. Since then, there has been a ton of great content written about both the documentary and the real-life players involved, and doing a deep dive into all of this insanity has been the most entertaining thing I've done in 2015 so far.
But The Jinx wasn't the first time Jarecki told the story of Durst, the wealthy real estate heir who's been suspected of at least three murders over the past thirty years. He also directed the 2010 film All Good Things, a film inspired by the true story of Durst and his multiple brushes with the law but which used fictionalized names and took some liberties with a few details of the true story. Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst star, and Nick Offerman and Kristen Wiig pop up in supporting roles, and my curiosity got the better of me: how would All Good Things (a movie I hadn't seen before) play right after watching The Jinx? The answer - not particularly well.
All Good Things opens with Durst stand-in David Marks (Gosling) in court for the murder of a Morris Black stand-in named Malvern Bump (Philip Baker Hall), utilizing much of the real-life court testimony as dialogue as Marks answers questions about his past. It quickly flashes back and spends its first half building up the relationship between Marks and his wife Katie (Dunst). The first half of the film occasionally tweaks the true story for dramatic purposes, which is totally fine - All Good Things had no real obligation to stick to the true details, since it's only based on the true story and not promising to relay it as it happened.
Gosling and Dunst are solid, and Gosling in particular humanizes his character in a way that makes him far more likable than his real-life counterpart. There's some real drama there, and the tension between the husband and wife feels natural and believable. But as soon as Katie disappears (Durst's wife, Kathie, disappeared in 1982 and is presumed dead - it's widely believed that Durst killed her), All Good Things loses its narrative steam. I'm not normally one to give Kirsten Dunst credit since I'm far from her biggest fan, but the story being told up until that point is largely the one of a husband and wife, and when one half of our perspective is abruptly removed from the story, it gives the movie a disjointed feel.
As the audience is left hanging after Katie's disappearance, the film jumps ahead and tackles the rest of Marks' story, but even though those events (like him getting away with the dismemberment of his neighbor) are totally nuts, it's hard to invest when we don't have closure about what happened to Katie, the soul of this film. While the real-life story may not have closure (yet), this narrative spin on it could have done a better job tying that element up. It's tough to see the connective tissue between all of the events in All Good Things, but The Jinx - in which we get to know the real Durst, as well as an exhaustive history of his background and the major players in his life - has the luxury of truth on its side. We're instantly invested in The Jinx because these are real things that happened to real people. Jarecki and his team clearly found Durst's story fascinating, but as a narrative feature, All Good Things fails to keep a necessary throughline for the audience to follow and care about. Everything after Katie just seems like random post-script: "Oh, and then this happened. And then this!" The film doesn't have the time to allow us to get to know David Marks enough to make his exploits worth following. Watching the movie after seeing The Jinx, we can see what they were going for - the details are indeed fascinating - but they were probably a little too close to the material and didn't understand that the audience couldn't invest because they didn't understand the context of the full story.
Thankfully, when the movie was released in 2010, it was enough to get the attention of the real Robert Durst, who reached out to Jarecki and asked if he'd be interested in telling Durst's story even though he'd been notoriously tight-lipped with journalists until then. The result was The Jinx, so I suppose we can look at All Good Things as a flawed but necessary prologue to what eventually became one of the most riveting pieces of television ever produced.
The Jinx is available on HBO and HBO Go right now, and All Good Things is currently streaming on Netflix.