Written by Connie | Posted on 25 November 2010| 0

IF there were one person you’d expect to take issue with “All Good Things,” the new movie directed by Andrew Jarecki, it would be Robert A. Durst, since it implicates him in three killings, two of which he is depicted as committing and a third as orchestrating.

“All Good Things,” directed by Andrew Jarecki, includes restaging a seedy Times Square where the Durst Organization was a major landlord.

In several brief telephone conversations, his first in years about deaths in which he has long been a suspect, Mr. Durst, the real estate scion whose wealthy family helped to redevelop Times Square in the 1990s, said he actually liked the movie.

The actor who played him? Ryan Gosling? “Close,” he said. “Not as good as the real thing.”

Kirsten Dunst, though, was pretty much a ringer, he said, for his wife, Kathie, whom he has long been suspected of murdering.

“Parts made me cry,” said Mr. Durst, 67, whose travails have commanded lurid headlines for nearly three decades.

It all began with the mysterious 1982 disappearance of his young wife, a beauty who had been considering divorce, followed 18 years later by the execution-style murder of a close friend as investigators looked to question her. It ultimately featured cross-dressing, dismemberment and a 45-day manhunt stretching from Galveston, Tex., to California and New York.

Though investigators sought to question Mr. Durst about his wife’s disappearance and the 2000 murder of his friend, Susan Berman, in Los Angeles, he has never been charged in either case. He was, however, charged in the 2001 death of a former rooming-house neighbor, Morris Black, whose body he dismembered and threw in Galveston Bay. But a Texas jury found he acted in self-defense, and he ended up serving four years on lesser charges, including jumping bail and evidence tampering.

Now he’s free and living on $65 million gained in a settlement with his family, splitting his time among homes in Houston, Los Angeles and Harlem.

Mr. Durst’s embrace of the film, which opens Friday, is probably based on its portrayal of him as a sad but very human character known as David Marks, whose childhood is scarred by his mother’s suicide and whose road to violence is paved by the pressures of life with an overbearing and distant father.

Mr. Jarecki, who has spoken of the pressures of life with his own strong-willed father, said he hoped the movie could help explain how Mr. Durst unraveled, ending up in Texas in 2001 posing as Dorothy, a mute woman in a blonde wig, and capable of cutting up a body with a hacksaw.

The $25 million movie’s most important mission, Mr. Jarecki said, is “to portray these people as human beings, and that’s very hard to do when you’re living in a world where Robert, for example, has been painted as a burlesque figure in the media.”

Mr. Durst does not endorse the film’s view that he played a role in all three deaths. Still, he said, he expected much worse. “The movie, I did think, is as reasonably accurate as anything out there,” he said, “a whole lot more accurate than those endless TV documentaries. And this doesn’t pretend to be a documentary.”

Mr. Jarecki is a documentary filmmaker whose “Capturing the Friedmans” was nominated for an Academy Award in 2004. But in this, his first dramatic feature, he chose a hybrid form: part fictional account that fills in the holes of a long-unsolved mystery and part researched docudrama that claims to point to the truth.

He and Marc Smerling, who helped produce and write the movie, have studied Mr. Durst’s life since 2005, and their Madison Avenue offices are filled with the paraphernalia of a precinct squad room. Maps. Court transcripts. Binders stuffed with evidence and interview notes.

None of this much impresses Mr. Durst’s younger brother, Douglas, who contends that the film maligns the family real estate company, the Durst Organization, which he now runs, and his dead father, Seymour Durst, the patriarch who is played by Frank Langella.

The Durst company has vowed to sue when the film is released, though it seems to be pulling back on that threat. “Fortunately,” Douglas Durst said, “this movie will be seen by so few people that litigation would be superfluous.” (The company has raised no objection to the portrayal of Robert, who has been estranged from the family for many years.)

In the film Mr. Jarecki uses washed-out colors to convey the gritty, seamy feel of Times Square in the 1970s and 1980s. David Marks is shown being pushed into the family business by his father, Sanford Marks, who sends him to collect the rent from the company’s massage-parlor tenants even as the elder Marks meets with the mayor to discuss how to clean up the area.

“The film’s depiction of the DO (Durst Organization) as a veritable ‘partner in crime’ to the prostitution and illegal drug industry in Times Square, is galling,” a Durst lawyer, Richard Emery, wrote in a 2008 letter to Mr. Jarecki. The “depiction of Seymour Durst as a ruthless, greedy, criminally implicated” man was, Mr. Emery added, “similarly false.”

Real estate executives describe the elder Mr. Durst, who died in 1995, as a tiny, polite if eccentric man, a skilled negotiator but one who rarely raised his voice as Mr. Langella’s menacing character does.

“Seymour had no resemblance to the hulking Langella,” said Nick Chavin, a real estate advertising executive who worked for him. “He was a sweetheart.”

Robert Durst said that while he found Mr. Langella to be “not bad” in the role, his father was never as “sharp and aggressive when it comes to me.”

Initially the characters were drawn from real life, Mr. Jarecki said, but the actors decided they did not want the constraints of having to impersonate real people. So the names were changed, and the actors were free to shape their characters.

The only character given his correct name is Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. At one point, Katie Marks, a k a Kathie Durst, is shown secretly mailing the senator a stolen ledger containing embarrassing information about the real estate empire. The senator mails it back to the company, calling it a family matter.

Mr. Jarecki said he heard that account from Kathie Durst’s friends and family. Douglas Durst said that his father did not even know the senator.

Many other parts of the story, though, are uncontested: Robert’s childhood in a motherless home; his psychological problems; his whirlwind romance with Kathy, 19, a dental hygienist who seemed to offer an escape from the pressures of his life. The couple married and moved to Vermont, where they opened a health-food store, All Good Things. But, under pressure from Seymour, they soon returned to Manhattan to join the family business and, once there, the marriage began to falter.

Robert did not want children. Kathie ended up having an abortion and began to assert her independence. She started medical school and was soon complaining to friends that Robert was rough with her. In 1981 she spoke to a divorce lawyer, though she never filed. The following year she disappeared one night after a fight at the couple’s weekend home in South Salem, N.Y.

Robert did not report her missing for four days and told police that she had taken the train home to their West Side apartment. Someone matching her description was seen there by several people.

The movie suggests that Robert, in the person of David Marks, murdered Kathie after first killing their beloved dog, Igor. It shows his friend, Ms. Berman, the daughter of a Las Vegas mobster and called Deborah in the film, helping him cover his tracks by donning a blonde wig to pose as Kathie in Manhattan, thus confusing police about the time and location of her death. And it shows Susan/Deborah, impoverished 18 years later, pressuring Robert/David for hush money. She is soon visited by Melvin Bump, the character that stands in for Mr. Black, who kills her as a favor to his wealthy friend.

Mr. Jarecki acknowledges that these scenes were largely conjecture. “Cinematically,” he said, “I think it was important to try to speculate a little bit on how these crimes could have all been tied together.”

At his 2003 trial for the death of Mr. Black, Mr. Durst testified that it was an act of self-defense. He admitted dismembering Mr. Black’s body and fleeing, saying that he did not think anyone would believe his story because back in New York, the Westchester County District Attorney, Jeanine F. Pirro (known in the film as Janet Rizzo and played by Diane Venora), had already announced she was reinvestigating his wife’s death. Mr. Durst was ultimately caught in a Pennsylvania supermarket, where a clerk spotted him shoplifting a Band-Aid and a chicken salad sandwich.

Mr. Jarecki draws largely on the testimony from the Black trial, spoken by Mr. Gosling using Mr. Durst’s actual words, as the narration for the film. Mr. Durst, Mr. Jarecki notes, is that rare “unreliable narrator,” and there are several instances where people have disputed the testimony he provided.

For example the Durst character recounts how, at the age of 7, he was there as his mother pitched herself off the roof of the Dursts’ Scarsdale home. His brother, though, says Robert did not witness their mother’s suicide.

And while Robert testified that he was relieved when his father overlooked him, the eldest son, in 1994 and instead chose his brother to take the reins of the family empire, friends like Mr. Chavin say Robert was devastated by that decision. “It destroyed him,” Mr. Chavin said.

Douglas Durst is only briefly portrayed in the film, as Daniel Marks, but it’s a pivotal scene in which Mr. Jarecki throws a new twist into the tale. He shows Douglas/Daniel in a hushed restaurant meeting with the district attorney. It is presented as an encounter between a business executive for whom the inquiry has become a nuisance and an ambitious politician conscious of how the wealthy can be beneficial to a political career. The implication is that the investigation goes cold as a result.

Mr. Jarecki said that sources in law enforcement confirmed the meeting had taken place. “People felt called off,” he said of the investigation.

Ms. Pirro, who now is a judge on television, declined comment. Douglas Durst has acknowledged meeting with Ms. Pirro, but said he did so only in an effort to assist in the investigation.

Kathie Durst’s brother, James McCormack, said that his family hoped the movie, which he found reasonably accurate, would spur Mr. Durst openly to discuss the events of Jan. 31, 1982, when Mrs. Durst is believed to have disappeared.

“My long-held dream is that he’ll have an epiphany of conscience and tell us what happened,” Mr. McCormack said, “so that my mother, three sisters and I can finally have some closure and justice.”

But in his recent conversations about the movie, Mr. Durst restated his position that he does not know what happened to his wife. Speaking more broadly, though, he said, “Whatever happened with Kathie was a big chunk my fault.”

He claimed complete ignorance about what happened to Ms. Berman. “I’m ready to go before God naked and say I don’t know nothing,” he said.

Mr. Jarecki said he has had no contact with Mr. Durst though he did try to reach him at one point without success. Mr. Durst, not surprisingly, remained keenly interested in the movie, according to two associates, who said he would show up quietly when shooting was done at outdoor locations in New York in 2008. He saw the film, he said, at a private screening arranged by Magnolia Pictures.

Mr. Durst is also vigilant about monitoring what is written about him. In a conversation this month he took offense that a 2006 article in The New York Times had described him as having carved up Mr. Black’s body until he was “swimming in blood.”

“I didn’t carve up the guy,” he said. “I dismembered a corpse.”


All Good Things Interviews News