Anyone can recognize that Charles Foster Kane resembles a certain newspaper magnate with a castle, and even nongeniuses will notice that David Marks, the aristocratic psychotic at the center of Andrew Jarecki's thriller, shares a few traits with an infamous real-estate scion. The filmmakers can change the names to protect the allegedly guilty all they want; as played by Ryan Gosling, Marks is Robert Durst, member of the Gotham elite and accused murderer. Like Durst, this heir to an empire marries a comely commoner (Dunst) and opens up a Vermont health-food store in the early '70s. He's dragged back home by a domineering dad (Langella) to do dodgy deeds for the family business, acting erratic long before his spouse goes "missing" in 1982; cut to 18 years later, when the case is reopened---and things really get stranger than fiction.
It's a juicy story, though that doesn't excuse Jarecki from fixating above all else on the tabloid-ready twists and pop-psychological turns of Durst's story. We're meant to view the character's sociopathic behavior as a symptom of upper-crust moral rot. (Rich people---so like us, yet so cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs crazy!) Yet any substantial examinations of how class figures into the mix are buried deep enough under lurid true-crime tropes that it'd take teams of detectives to find them. Watching Kirsten Dunst idle in three modes---sad, sadder and zombie---is letdown enough, but seeing Gosling so thoroughly wasted borders on Shakespearean tragedy; only those who've been curious as to what the actor looks like in old-man makeup, Mrs. Doubtfire--like drag or both will feel they've gotten their money's worth. All good things must come to an end; missed-potential melodramas about real-life scandals, however, can't be over soon enough.
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