3.5 stars
“You walked in here, you ruptured the pattern. Bang!” Columbia University, 1943. A bright eyed freshman has his world split open when the restricted moments of Henry Miller are launched across a silenced library. In that moment, Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe - The Woman In Black) meets Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan - Metallica, Through the Never) and the intellectual, emotional and sexual attraction would launch one of literature's most disruptive movements, the Beat generation. Joined by another two of Carr's contemporaries, William Burroughs (Ben Foster - The Messenger) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston - Night Train to Lisbon), together they took on the establishment. But they were also haunted by Carr's mentor and 'guardian angel', teacher David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall - Dexter). In love with the precocious student, he couldn't take no for an answer and the jealousy that grew between him and Ginsberg would prove to be fatal.

A companion piece to last years On The Road, a more sedentary look at Kerouac, Kill Your Darlings is a punchy 'roots' film about the crucible in which Beat poetry was born, and about the men who were determined to break with tradition in all ways possible. Despite the inevitable attention generated by Radcliffe's career baggage and an eyebrow raising sex-scene with a random pickup (“it's more about vulnerability” said the veteran of on-stage nudity), all eyes are on DeHaan who throws everything at Carr, investing him with hair-trigger sensibilities that are as exciting as they are repellent. He was their catalyst, the Beat's big bang, and DeHaan ensures we have no doubt how or why he created this vortex despite having no discernible talent of his own. His meeting a lone, empty person closes with a world of possibility.

Yet for all the jazzy ambition and electro-pop peppering, there's a staid central core about Kill Your Darlings that holds the film back. For a story about revolution, it is unfortunate that it steadfastly refuses to catch fire. Radcliffe's persistence as an observant actor rather than one who fully interacts with a scene is a significant part of the problem. There's an oily barrier between audience and action that seems to settle tension when it should be igniting it. Ginsberg was a radical's radical, a pre-punk punk whose first work turned poetry on its head. It's hard to see this in Radcliffe's earnest, wide-eyed interpretation.

Not that the film is not compelling. Krokidas' energetic debut as director opens a big window on a small moment when nihilistic youth moved centre stage and the world never turned back. Foster and Hall lend strong support, Stephen Carter's production design effortlessly brings the period to life. Wrapped around intrigue, murder and illegal sex (which would, ironically, save Carr's own life) this peek under the sheets of a fascinating moment in time remains a good film. Just not the truly great one it could have been.


Previewed at Cinema Paris, Sydney, on 25 November 2013



Daniel Radcliffe
Dane DeHaan
Michael C. Hall
Ben Foster

John Krokidas

John Krokidas



104 minutes

December 5, 2013
Kill Your Darlings (2013) on IMDb
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