Review by-Jarrett Leahy
Based on a true story, Kill Your Darlings tells of early beginnings of the Beat Generation and the dramatic events surrounding famed writer/poet Allen Ginsberg’s time spent at Columbia University. After being accepted into Columbia’s English program in the fall of 1943, Ginsberg quickly becomes frustrated with the department’s traditional conformist instruction. His increasing dissatisfaction leads to his openly questioning a professor’s conventional teachings during class. This verbal confrontation captures the attention of Lucien Carr, a brash, charismatic student who is full of his own grand anti-establishment ideas. The two instantly connect, and through Lucien, Allen is introduced to fellow rebellious writers William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. As the four begin sharing their beatnik ideas for the future of writing and literature, they decide to create a self-proclaimed movement called The New Vision, with each pushing the other to think and write more unconventionally and imaginatively. This of course angers the university establishment which only fuels their newly formed beliefs. Drama arises however when David Kammerar, an eccentric and secretive companion from Lucien’s past life re-emerges. As Lucien and David’s capricious friendship begins to further splinter, an inevitable boiling point threatens not only the future of the group but each member in it.
Kill Your Darlings is a confident piece of cinema from a first time director, John Krokidas, who was also the co-writer of the screenplay. Visually portraying a writer’s inspiration and creative arousal can be a burdensome task for even the most veteran of filmmakers. If done inadequately, scenes meant to beguile the audience can instead feel dull and lackluster. Krokidas’ shrewd use of flashbacks and drug induced hallucinations keep us fully engaged in this turbulent true story while helping us better understand how obsessively committed these ingenious writers were to their craft.
Anytime Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame appears in a film it becomes fodder for those looking to see if he will succeed or fail as an adult actor. Kill Your Darlings should prove to any doubters that Radcliffe truly has the acting talents to move beyond his Harry Potter persona. Since the billion dollar franchise ended three years ago, Radcliffe has made a concerted effort to choose parts, both in film and on stage, that are both mature and risk taking. His role of Allen Ginsberg, a closeted homosexual who is just beginning to discover his true self, would certainly fall under both of those categories. Radcliffe captures the true essence of Ginsberg, emanating the exuberance of a gifted, wide-eyed young writer on the verge of greatness and the anguish of a man whose romantic feelings aren’t reciprocated.
As pleasantly impressed as I was with Radcliffe, the film’s standout performance comes from Dane DeHaan’s fervid portrayal of Lucien Carr. DeHaan’s recent rise in acclaim (he is starring in this year’s latest Spider Man effort) was brought about by his noteworthy supporting performance in last year’s outstanding crime drama, The Place Beyond the Pines. DeHaan’s Lucien is a tormented soul, blessed with an almost manic gift for outside-the-box ideas, but also haunted by a past that he can’t seem to fully run away from. Together on screen, Radcliffe and DeHaan flawlessly portray the uncomfortable sexual tension created by Ginsberg’s conspicuous infatuation for Lucien.
Taking advantage of a gifted cast that includes not just Radcliffe and DeHaan, but also Michael C. Hall (Dexter, Six Feet Under), Ben Foster (Lone Survivor, The Messenger), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Road To Perdition, Fast Times at Ridgemont High), and Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene, Liberal Arts), Krokidas’ account of this dramatic true story is an entertaining nail-biter from start to finish. With such a strong directorial debut effort, Krokidas is definitely a filmmaker that will be worth keeping an eye out for in the near future.-JL