Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall
Genre: Drama/ Biopic
A young and seemingly impressionable Alan Ginsberg (Radcliffe) enters Columbia University to study a major in English. There he finds that they put full emphasis on the usual conventions of poetry such as meter and rhyme, but he then befriends Lucian Carr (DeHaan) as well as future beat writers William Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston). Comparing the University’s insistence on literary traditions to fascism, Carr tries to lead a revolution against these traditions and after witnessing Ginsberg’s talent for writing, persuades him to join. However, amongst all the youthful creativity and energy, Carr’s personal demons, particularly his troubled relationship with David Kammerer (Hall) begin to surface which threatens the group’s friendship and creative revolution, and will change all their lives forever.
I know this has been said before; but when people are dying fighting in World War II, then by comparison some students fighting against the traditional conventions of literature seem more than a little small fry. In what is his first feature, John Krokidas is happy to remind us of the what is happening across the Atlantic and though it is to his credit that he does this, it does inevitably sometimes feel that it is undermining what is happening to these characters. When Lucien Carr gives a dramatic speech comparing his lecturers to fascists, or when our protagonists break into a library just to swap the classic texts with things that are a little unconventional it is done with supposed tension and vigour, but it is only literature. It is also worth pointing out in my view that some of these classical writers are superb too.
However, that small quibble aside, Kill Your Darlings is an impressively made and extremely well acted coming of age drama set amongst a turbulent and interesting time in history. Using both the soundtrack and visuals, Krokidas captures the time period with genuine vigour and energy that it is impossible not to be sucked into it too and feel part of. There are of course many substances consumed, and through editing and great camerawork Krokidas enables us to genuinely feel the euphoria, frustration and anxiety that our protagonists experience.
With a character driven film involving some big personalities, great performances were always going to be essential for Kill Your Darlings to work, and the great ensemble cast duly deliver. As a big name, Daniel Radcliffe’s performance has inevitably had the most coverage and I am genuinely pleased to say he is excellent. I am happy to go on record saying I thought he was a terrible actor, especially after his abysmal performance in the equally abysmal Woman In Black, but here he is a truly magnificent screen presence. His expressions and dialogue delivery capture with raw energy the life changing experiences that Ginsberg encounters and would shape his future writing. The always excellent DeHaan is charismatic as Lucien Carr, hopefully he will not get typecast with playing troubled characters, but he does do it so well. Despite his demons and potentially unlikable personality, DeHaan makes Carr a fascinating character. In supporting but vital roles, Ben Foster, Michael C. Hall and Jack Huston are also excellent.
As Ginsberg struggles to understand both his creative talents and sexual desires, the plot is genuinely involving. It is in the final third that things go occasionally flat and perhaps a little sharpening of the script could have helped. A slightly ill judged montage involving all the character’s individual experiences on one dramatic night, the underuse of the subplot involving Kerouac and his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) adds very little and despite everything we need to know being on screen, characters do occasionally still have to then say what we already know. Otherwise, Kill Your Darlings is an extremely watchable and engaging coming of age drama that sheds some interesting light on some very intriguing characters.
Despite the protagonist’s ’revolution’ being placed in context with World War II and the occasional misfire, thanks to great performances and Krokidas’ energetic direction, Kill Your Darlings is an engaging and intriguing drama well worth a watch.