Review: Kill Your Darlings
PLOT: In 1944 New York, young writers Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs are drawn into the world of Lucien Carr, a crafty non-conformist who kickstarts their evolution into the Beat Generation.
REVIEW: Harry Potter is all grown up! Yes, we knew that already, and that's not the real story of KILL YOUR DARLINGS, which does indeed include Daniel Radcliffe in several compromising positions (literally) as burgeoning poet Allen Ginsberg. No, the real headline for the film is Dane DeHaan, who previously was a promising young talent known for brooding roles in CHRONICLE and THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES but here is certified as an incredibly charismatic screen presence and future star. Playing an eccentric and disaffected college student with dreams of starting a literary revolution without necessary the tools to participate in it, DeHaan has a moody energy that enlivens John Krokidas' entertaining look at the Beat poets in 1940s New York.
That's not to say Radcliffe doesn't continue to prove himself a fine actor; here he transforms rather believably into Allen Ginsberg, the legendary writer who when we meet him here is just another young student hoping to make good and follow in his father's footsteps. Facing the pressures of an unexciting curriculum, not to mention the undercurrent of anti-semitism at the time, Ginsberg makes an unusual friend in the form of Lucien Carr (DeHaan), a troubled - and troublemaking - anti-conformist who has made a habit of bouncing from school to school. Carr quickly introduces Ginsberg to his inner circle (which includes a constantly drug-stupified William Burroughs, played by a terrific Ben Foster, and Jack Kerouac, played by a similarly splendid Jack Huston); Ginsberg finds himself galvanized by Carr's vivid ideas of breaking stuffy old literary rules, even if the charming young man can't even seem to finish his own papers, instead using friend (and, it is hinted, former lover) David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) to do the work for him.
It's the increasingly close friendship between Ginsberg and Carr that makes up the bulk of KILL YOUR DARLINGS, as Ginsberg struggles to understand his own sexuality and feelings for the uninhibited Carr, who leads Ginsberg ever further into his world of late night partying and mischief (in one instance they break into the Columbia University library and replace a few classics with banned books). It's Carr's proclivity to use people for his own selfish purposes that eventually brings about a tragedy: the murder of Kammerer, whom the film shows to be both obsessive stalker and pitiable tool (Hall excels at playing both sides). The film leaves this event for the conclusion, however, and its impact is somewhat muted as a result, especially considering that Carr almost completely got away with the act.
Krodidas gives KILL YOUR DARLINGS an upbeat, appealing vibe of creativity and expression; 1940s New York is lovingly reproduced and depicted as a jazz-fueled epicenter of freedom, in which Ginsberg and company commence forming the Beat Generation. Several montages of smoking, drinking and spontaneous writing are rather standard in form, but still relay the intensity the group had - and the cast is so good that you're eager to be a part of their bright journey: strong supporting turns by David Cross (as Ginsberg's morose father), Jennifer Jason Leigh (as his depressive mother) and Elizabeth Olsen (as Kerouac's long-suffering wife) add much color to the proceedings. This is perhaps the most impressive ensemble cast of the year.
And it's DeHaan who makes the most impact. His eyes somehow simultaneously sleepy and animalistic, the actor completely sells Carr's magnetism so that it's not hard to believe people being so drawn into his world. It will be rather interesting to see how the actor's career plays out from here (of course he's in a certain superhero movie coming out next sumer), because while he's not a traditional leading-man, he's got the potential to establish himself as a formidable talent for years to come.