I'm still trying to figure out why this movie by Andrew Jarecki (director of the great documentary Capturing the Friedmans) doesn't work. It's a great story with a stellar cast, and it feels like a total washout. Based on conjectures about the life and mischief of real estate heir Robert Durst, it curiously shies away from its own protagonist, here called David Marks, and played by Ryan Gosling well, but without much impact. Durst/Marks wife disappeared and was never found again and years later a couple more murders were related to him. Apparently, a jury in Texas absolved him of killing a man, he claimed on self-defense (even though he was seen throwing the hacked body in a river). He's still out there selling real estate in Florida. If the filmmakers have any compelling evidence that Durst was involved in the murder of three people, they don't know how to show it convincingly. Not that all psychopath's eyes have to bug out of their skulls, but this guy is such a hollow enigma that it is hard to understand him dramatically. We are told and shown he was traumatized by his mother's suicide and by a domineering father but this is not enough. His actions are not quite intelligible. Everything is set up dramatically and yet the character feels absent from his own movie. I hate seeing Ryan Gosling wasted in a role. It befuddles me.
The rest of the cast is game. Kirsten Dunst is far more compelling than Gosling as his wife. For a good while the movie seems to pay more attention to her. She has never made a big impression on me, but in this movie she holds her own. And the great Frank Langella is excellent as Marks' dad, a thoroughly disagreeable millionaire. Langella affects a raspy, New York Jewish inflected voice, but he doesn't ham it up. His silky, authoritative arrogance is amazing to watch. The most shocking scene in the movie takes place at a restaurant, where he refuses to invite the newlyweds and the bride's mother for lunch, making them split the bill instead. His businesslike pettiness is truly horrifying. He is fantastic. Lily Rabe also stands out, if a bit much, playing Marks' best friend, who also ended up disappearing years later. And one is always happy to see and hear Phillip Baker Hall, here playing a total schmo.
The filmmakers create a whole set of circumstances and conjectures but not a real character for David Marks. So many of his actions are inexplicable and his weirdness does not cohere. This movie is like when someone tells you a really juicy piece of gossip really badly.