Review: John Krokidas’s “Kill Your Darlings”

As a noted fan of the beat-era poets, I was phenomenally excited when I first heard word of Kill Your Darlings. Anything about Ginsberg or Kerouac and I will most certainly be there. Furthermore, when I discovered that the ever-infamous Daniel Radcliffe would be playing Allen Ginsberg I was more excited. It was an interesting casting choice. Having seen other adaptions of Ginsberg (notably James Franco in the film Howlit was going to be fascinating to see how Radcliffe would expunge the vision I had in my mind of Ginsy and interpret the eccentric poet himself. Furthermore, upon discovering that the film would be depicting the enigmatic Pre-Howl Ginsberg, my excitement grew and grew.

Radcliffe delivered with force, representing an awkward, teenaged Allen who was yet to come into himself, and his performance, along with the fascinating script was captivating.

Indeed, the script itself was a marvel, and it was easy to tell that a lot of passion went into this project. Everyone involved was enthralled in the work they were doing and it shows, from the shots to the performances to the way the characters were written. It was enjoyable to watch with an intriguing as well: I had no previous knowledge of the events depicted in the films (surprisingly enough) and thus was fascinated by the retelling. The coming of age themes paired with the electirc poetry of the script and the murderous plot melded together in an edgy yet incredibly sincere form.

Perhaps the true star of the film, however, was not Radcliffe’s Ginsberg, but rather, the entirely romantic and feverishly disturbed Lucien Carr, played by up-and-comer Dane DeHaan. I was already swept with Dane from witnessing his prior feats: his tragic depictions of the ADHD-ridden Jesse in HBO’s acclaimed series In Treatment, Andrew in the edgy, superhero-sleeper Chronicle, or more recently Jason in notoriously-gritty Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond The Pines. DeHaan seems the type to fall into typecast territory of angsty adolescent, and while Lucien doesn’t do much to quell that, the role is flipped on its head by the fact that Carr is incredibly skilled at getting people to fall at his feet. And DeHaan does so without fail, bearing an intense portrayal of the poet-turned-killer that draws a love-hate response from the audience. His performance was, in a word, incendiary.

The supporting cast were magnificent as well, including Michael C. Hall as the predatory-yet-mournful David Kammerer, Ben Foster as the ever-odd Burroughs and Jack Huston as our lovely Kerouac, and again, it was easy to tell that everybody involved in the project was fully committed to what they did. With such a small budget and a brief shooting schedule (the entire film was shot over just 24 days), I figure it was hard not to be.

Despite the film’s quandaries in that it seems to break structure here and there, Kill Your Darlings was a persuasive tale. To any lover of the beat generation, it provides fascinating insight to the writers so loved and to those less familiar, is a gripping and mysterious introduction. The loving script and the dedicated performances make it shine.

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