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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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All Good Things

Former New Hyde Park resident Kathie McCormack married Robert Durst in the early 1970s and she disappeared without a trace in 1982, a turn of events at the center of All Good Things, a compelling motion picture which opens in New York City on Friday, Dec. 3.

The dark and gritty film was inspired by the story of Robert Durst, who was suspected of, but never tried for, murdering Kathie. Durst did acknowledge killing Morris Black in 2001 in Texas, only to be acquitted of homicide in 2003, with the jury believing Durst’s assertion that he had acted in self defense. These same jurors did find Durst guilty of improper disposal of a body because Durst also admitted to cutting Black’s corpse into pieces and dumping his remains into Galveston Bay. Durst’s testimony at that trial serves as the very effective narrative device around which All Good Things is built.

Director Andrew Jarecki (Capturing the Friedmans) and screenwriters Marc Smerling and Marcus Hinchey extensively researched Durst’s odyssey from heir to the Durst Organization, a family-run, Manhattan-based real estate powerhouse, in the late 1970s to a cross-dressing drifter in the early 2000s. The film’s main characters are David Marks (Ryan Gosling), who portrays the person based on Robert Durst, Katie Marks (Kirsten Dunst), the Kathie McCormack composite, and Sanford Marks (Frank Langella), the stand-in for Seymour Durst, Robert’s father.

“I’m always curious about the human side of monster stories, in decoding the real, complicated life that lies behind extreme behavior,” Jarecki said, in the film’s production notes. Robert Durst, the director added, was “presented as an almost burlesque figure in the media—this cross-dressing, fantastically rich, eccentric maniac—but when we began to research him, we found he started out as a guy we can all recognize, someone with hopes and dreams and a desire to have a good life. He met this beautiful girl from a modest family on Long Island, so far from the sophisticated world he had inhabited as a young man, and fell in love. And for a time, she helped to make him a better person.”

The operative words here are ‘for a time.’ Gosling and Dunst are excellent actors, and it is possible at the movie’s outset to understand the initial mutual attraction between the characters based on Durst and McCormack. All Good Things was the name of the health food store the real-life Dursts established in Vermont in the 1970s, a venture they abandoned when Durst returned to work for his father in Manhattan. The marriage came apart in the years thereafter.

Moreover, the filmmakers expertly weave into the tale how Deborah Lehrman and Malvern Bump, fictitious characters closely resembling the late writer Susan Berman (Lily Rabe) and the aforementioned Mr. Black (Philip Baker Hall), might have played roles in Robert Durst’s life, too.

All Good Things could also generate renewed interest in Matt Birkbeck’s A Deadly Secret (Berkley Books, 2002), an excellent primer on certain events depicted in the movie. The book’s new Kindle/e-book edition was released in September 2010 and features a new chapter.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net