Kill Your Darlings

2012, Movie, R, 100 mins

Review

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By taking on the lives of the legendary Beat writers -- Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs -- in his debut feature <I>Kill Your Darlings</I>, director John Krokidas proves he isn’t afraid to tackle big subjects or iconic historical figures.<P><P> The movie opens as aspiring young poet Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) is unexpectedly accepted to Columbia University. His father Louis (David Cross), a respected poet himself, urges his son to go, even though his emotionally fragile, mentally ill mother Naomi (Jennifer Jason Leigh) can’t stand the thought of him leaving.<P><P> Upon arriving at the intimidating campus, Allen quickly befriends Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a hedonistic rebel who dreams of starting a new movement that would enable these young literary lions to make a name for themselves. He shares this passion with Ginsberg and helps the new freshman navigate life in New York City’s bohemian Greenwich Village -- where drugs, sex, and jazz flow unhindered. Lucien also introduces Allen to a former merchant marine named Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), whom he claims is a real writer, and William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster), a wealthy young man who always wears a suit, ingests any substance that crosses his path, and excels at caustically commenting on everything in life.<P><P> They soon set a plan in motion -- helped immeasurably by Ginsberg’s talent, his discovery of amphetamines, and his sexual attraction to Carr -- to shake up both the school’s staid traditions and the literary status quo. However, standing in Carr’s way is his codependent relationship with David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), his lover, protector, and mentor. When Carr takes drastic action to end their relationship, the budding artists find themselves in the middle of a murder investigation.<P><P> Krokidas adroitly captures the moment when young talent begins to develop in a series of cascading montages that have the buzz of a speed high. The director avoids making his film an ode or hagiography to artists he obviously reveres by choosing not to focus that much on their art. These men didn’t create their best or most lasting work during this period, and the screenplay avoids those painful moments that afflict so many biopics about young artists in which the movie stops to show us the Promethean moment that would later flower into their signature creations -- Ginsberg doesn’t see anyone howl.<P><P> Instead, Krokidas goes deep into Ginsberg’s psyche. Still very much in the closet at that time, his attraction to Carr is something that makes him easily manipulated by the charismatic ringleader; their unhealthy relationship plays out in the movie’s very best scene, in which the duo seduce a school librarian in order to steal a key to a display case.<P><P> The performances are solid. Radcliffe dons Potter-esque glasses for the first time since leaving that character behind, and to his credit he never makes us think of his signature part -- not just because of the sex scenes, but because from the very beginning he gives Ginsberg something Harry Potter didn’t develop until the end of that series: a sense of self-esteem. Ben Foster is quite funny as Burroughs; he’s so dry that you could imagine him playing Truman Capote, and so offhandedly deranged that he seems like the worthy successor to Johnny Depp if anyone adapts another Hunter S. Thompson book.<P><P> However, it’s Hall who walks off with the film, in part because his character comes to represent the bitter truth at the heart of this story. As we learn more about the intense relationship between Kammerer and Carr -- and see Carr’s inability to cope with it -- we come to realize that, for all of their talk about living a life of passion and experience, the future Beats aren’t yet ready to practice what they preach.<P><P> <I>Kill Your Darlings</I> is by no means perfect, but it’s an ambitious and promising first film that gives a handful of young actors the chance to work with a director who has a great deal on his mind. leave a comment --Perry Seibert

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