Daniel Radcliffe takes another giant step away from Hogwarts with his portrayal of a young Allen Ginsberg drawn into a murderous love triangle at the dawn of the Beat Generation.
Kill Your Darlings opens in 1944, when young and
socially-awkward Ginsberg, freshly graduated from high school in New
Jersey, receives notice that he’s been accepted at New York’s Columbia
University. He’s thrilled for a multitude of reasons, not the least of
which is to escape his tension-filled home life. His mother suffers from
paranoid delusions which his uptight schoolteacher father has no
tolerance for, and Allen is tired of playing the intermediary.
school, he is at once drawn to the flashy young radical Lucien (“Lu”)
Carr (Dane DeHaan), whose delight in upsetting the system appeals to
Ginsberg–not to mention his blonde, pale-eyed beauty, which awakens
hitherto unacknowledged desires.
Soon Allen is following Lu around like a
puppy and being drawn into his odd circle of friends, which includes
the nitrous oxide-huffing son of a wealthy family, William Burroughs
(Ben Foster), and David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), a bearded bohemian
who is also head-over-heels in love with young Lu, having followed him
from city to city and resentful of Allen’s intrusion into their lives.
Lu is an expert at bending people to his will, and he wants Allen
(whom he nicknames Ginsy) to join him, Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac (Jack
Huston) in a radical literary movement which involves doing a lot of
drugs and destroying the old to give rise to the new. Allen is putty in
his hands, and soon they’re committing minor acts of rebellion like
breaking into the university library to replace the first edition
volumes under glass with pornography.
Scheming Lu also pits his rivals against each other to get what he
wants from them both: high-minded manifestos from Allen and school
papers from David. But when David’s obsession reaches frightening new
heights, Lu kills him in a panic and sinks the body in the Hudson River.
Then he does what he always does, turning to his circle of friends for
Radcliffe is impressive as Ginsberg, who is almost a bystander in the
story were it not for the fact that his sexual and intellectual
awakenings are key points of the story. DeHaan is ideally cast as the
seductive Lu. Foster has Burroughs’ nervous, weedy voice down pat and
Huston is a sprawling Kerouac. No stranger to obsessive roles, Hall’s
portrayal of Kammerer is rather sympathetic; evidently Lu’s real-life
stalker was much creepier.
That this film is based on true incidents is surprising given the
scenario is so eventful. Debuting director John Krokidas and co-writer
Austin Bunn approach the material episodically, and the out-of-order
sequencing and anachronistic soundtrack gives it the energy of a Richard
Lester romp. And any departure from the truth on the part of the
screenwriters is absolved when the imprisoned Lu rejects the deposition
Allen had ghostwritten for him: “This is your story, not mine!”
The film is attractively shot in sepiatones by director of photography
Reed Morano. Stephen Carter’s production design and Christopher
Peterson’s costumes, all gleaming wood and tweed suits, are also nicely
What makes Kill Your Darlings more successful than other beat
generation-themed films is the fact that these characters are presented
as real people—before they became myths—in a highly dramatic story made
all the more riveting because its’s true.