Kill Your Darlings is such an impeccable title for the based-on-a-true-story film arriving in theaters starring Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg. Not only does it refer to the literary phrase about losing aspects of a writer’s story that they are attached to for the benefit of forward growth, but it mirrors the murder at the heart of Kill Your Darlings.
The film begins with Radcliffe’s iconic poet Ginsberg as a young man, visiting what we learn is Dane DeHaan’s Lucien Carr in prison. Then, it flashes back to Ginsberg several years earlier. He is living at home, under the tutelage of his poet father (David Cross) and his mentally disturbed mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh). He has just been accepted to Columbia University and his legendary journey is set to begin.
Columbia University in 1944 would prove to be a fateful breeding ground for the group of writers that would become known as the Beat Generation. Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) is part of a circle of friends that includes Ginsberg, Carr and William Burroughs (Ben Foster). The screenplay by Austin Bunn and director John Krokidas pops with the prose that would make these writers some of the greatest in American history. You feel their angst and disillusionment with post-World War II and its uniformity-spewing cultural feel.
Teased in the Kill Your Darlings trailer, Ginsberg grows close to Carr and each inspires the other to greater literary heights. It is clear that the writers’ disdain for their society as a whole also mirrors their dissatisfaction with the conformity-driven syllabi of their classes and teachers. As the drama heats up, so too does the soundtrack and the immense power wielded by actors.
As Carr and Ginsberg’s friendship intensifies, jealousy and ego rear their head in a triangle of sorts between Carr, Ginsberg and Michael C. Hall’s David Kammerer. It is made clear that Carr and Kammerer had some sort of relationship. What isn’t clear is who is obsessing about whom. Through director Krokidas’ terse pacing that feels like an approaching storm is unavoidable, the audience feels not only the angst that would populate these iconic writers’ work, but the romantic frustrations of its characters that would eventually lead to murder.
Radcliffe astounds, and it is safe to say that his journey from Harry Potter child actor to full-blown top thespian of our times is complete with Kill Your Darlings. The character journey from teen living at home to man on the cusp of greatness is a study in an actor and a part coming together in a moment of film fate.
And DeHaan continues his stellar streak (soon to be seen in The Amazing Spider-Man 2) after announcing his presence in Chronicle, Lawless and Metallica Through the Never. His Carr is commanding, charismatic and deeply troubled. Movie Fanatic has put DeHaan on our list of actors who we will watch in anything with his latest performance.
Our Kill Your Darlings review cannot recommend the film enough for fans of the Beat Generation and, frankly, all fans of a compelling story told with an expert touch by its writers and director and a cast operating at a level that could not be higher.