Andrew Jarecki, whose first film was the award-winning documentary “Capturing the Friedmans,” has made a feature film starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst called “All Good Things.” It is based on the real-life story of Robert Durst, the son of a wealthy New York family, who is connected to two unsolved murders and was acquitted of a third over an 18-year period. Like “Capturing the Friedmans,” it is an exploration of family dysfunction and the failures of the legal system.
But Jarecki says that his focus in both films is on secrets. “I think it is very interesting to try to understand what people are really thinking.” He spoke about chatting with American tourists in Amsterdam. “They looked like accountants, dressed very conservatively.” They told him they did accounting for jewelry manufacturers. “Maybe I’m always looking for conspiracy but to me that sounded like an answer designed to shut you down. So I said to the guy, ‘C’mon, what do you really do?’ And he looked at me for a second and then looked around and said, ‘My wife and I run a network of pornographic websites and we make a lot of money doing it.’ I thought, ‘I’m so glad I asked him what he really did — that is so much more interesting than the first answer.'”
There was a personal connection that drew him to the story as well. Durst was the son of a wealthy and powerful family whose father tried to keep him connected to the family business even though he wanted to leave New York and run a health food store. (The title of the film comes from a health food store Durst ran in Vermont until his father pressured him to come back and work in real estate. “I had a father who was enormously successful and wanted me to go into the family business and I had other ideas. There was something about that that appealed to me.”
It was a challenge to take a story that happened in fragments over a long period of time. “This is a story that perks up over the years, you see little bits of it. A good scandal happens over a few months, usually.” The movie follows the Durst character (called David Marks in the film) from the 1970’s to the 2000’s. He was “quirky but charming, the interesting eldest son, everyone expects him to go into the family business. By accident he meets a beautiful girl and 10 years later she goes missing, she disappears. That was interesting to me when I first learned about that.” We see him meet and marry his wife and watch their relationship deteriorate as she becomes more mature and independent and he becomes more withdrawn and controlling. Then she is gone.
David is a likely suspect, but without any evidence, his wife’s disappearance remains unsolved. For almost two decades. “There was this missing girl and there was a lot of speculation. And then the whole thing went to sleep for a while. it didn’t become a national story because nothing happened for a while. Eighteen years later the new prosecutor got a tip and re-opened the case, and suddenly there’s a new story, which his that someone is thinking the same thoughts as other people have for a while but it is someone who is motivated to do something about it.”
“And then nothing much happens,” Jerecki continued. “They somewhat lackadaisically get themselves organized to pursue the case. They decide to go and find out what this one witness has to say and almost immediately she is found murdered. This thing keeps re-emerging. The New York police lets the LAPD know that they think it may be connected but they ignore them to pursue another suspect who turned out not to be a good suspect. The OJ case made them very nervous about high-profile defendants. They didn’t pursue it, didn’t get an indictment. And within a year of that, this body washes up on shore near Galveston, Texas, and that’s another chapter about Bob’s life. So either you look at this guy and say he is the unluckiest guy in the world or he was involved. He lost his wife, he was accused of her murder, he lost his best friend, he was accused of her murder. Then he loses his sort of roommate in Galveston, also to a terrible fate, and he is indicted and that’s when things start to get interesting.”
Durst acknowledged that he killed and dismembered the man, but plead self-defense and a panicked disposal of the body. “The case was so badly handled he would never have gotten convicted in any meaningful way,” Jarecki explained.
The true story is so strange (for example, Durst lived for a time as a mute woman) that “The toughest thing always is figuring what to take out,” Jarecki said. “You treat the audience as intelligently as you would want to be treated by the film-maker. At one screening, someone asked why we didn’t know what happened to the mother. I asked if anyone else in the audience wanted to see that. We know what that scene’s going to be like; that scene’s in another movie. If you’re just phoning it in, if you’re writing some scene just to show them going somewhere, if you can write it quick…it’s probably going to not be that complicated and therefore not that interesting. You want to see a lot of of layers going on at the same time if you can. That’s what makes a film watchable multiple times.”
As outlandish and unwieldy as the story is, Jarecki and his top-notch cast make it into a coherent, compelling narrative. “If people say, ‘Why did you have her do that?’ We can say, ‘It actually happened.’ If they say, ‘It isn’t realistic,’ I say, ‘It happened. What’s your definition of realistic?'”