Rating: R Length: 104 minutes
Release Date: January 18, 2013
Directed by: John Krokidas
Stars: 4 out of 5
Creating a biographical film about some of the most beloved poets of the Beat generation requires exceptional precision and skill. “Kill Your Darlings” (watch trailer) is the result of that skill and a film well done in almost every way, but its controversial topics and limited appeal outside of poetry fanatics and those interested in the early homosexual rights movement in the United States may keep it from topping the charts during its worldwide release. The film debuted at the Sundance festival alongside “On the Road,” another Beat generation movie, and both are likely to find many fans of very different tastes.
“Kill Your Darlings” is a common saying among poets and fiction writers. It tells writers to let go of the tropes and inhibitions that influence them, including their love for main characters and fictional heroes. The film does just that by recounting the college years of Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) as he escapes his overbearing parents and meets up with Beat generation visionaries, including Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster). Taken under the wing of Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) and forced into a homosexual love triangle leading up to the murder of David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), Ginsberg learns to love sex, drugs, and life in all its myriad forms.
The many powerful character interactions in “Kill Your Darlings” are enhanced by the exceptional portrayal of Ginsberg by Radcliffe. Leaving his child-acting career behind, the British actor brings the New Jersey poet to life. He is surrounded by many other amazing performances, notably those of DeHaan, Huston, and Foster as iconic Beat generation giants. Hall rounds out the main cast with a decent portrayal, but the supporting scenes involving David Cross and Jennifer Jason Leigh steal the spotlight time after time.
The cinematography may not suit all viewers. The camera uses very intimate angles during scenes of sex and illicit activity. Many moviegoers may not enjoy lurid homosexual acts shown on the big screen, even during an R-rated film. The lighting is exceptionally good. The use of sets teeming with life from the Beat era is sure to find many fans. The transitions are another area where the film stumbles from time to time. Jarring switches between characters and near-nauseating sequences involving drugs may deliver the point of the scene, but they do so at the risk of further alienating viewers.
The script of “Kill Your Darlings” is a masterfully woven tale of love and intrigue. It takes key moments from the real lives of Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs and delicately crafts them into a cohesive whole. This may only be a story based on the real tale, but it captures the feel and energy of the Beat generation exceptionally well. The dialogue struggles at times, becoming monotonous and predictable toward the middle of the film, but ultimately, the smart and witty repertoire of the poets shines through during more memorable scenes. Overall, the script provides an excellent base for the enjoyable performances of many professional actors.
The film’s direction is exactly what viewers have come to expect from Sundance premieres. It tackles many difficult modern topics with a tongue-in-cheek view and a nod toward killing off the legends of superhuman heroes from the Beat generation. The film strips the luster away from the heady days of that generation and replaces it with an all-too-believable narrative involving great betrayal and sorrow, as well as emphasizing the power wielded by those with strong wills. These are all excellent choices by the director, along with the casting decisions, that ultimately result in a very strong film. The decision to tackle such heady topics head-on may not find fans in every audience, but it does offer a stark and realistic view of homosexuality, philosophy, and the creative process.
“Kill Your Darlings” gives viewers a lot to think about from the outset and only piles on the philosophy as the film advances. The stripping away of the facades from many beloved characters may not sit well with all fans, nor may the decision to thrust homosexual acts into the limelight, but the movie is still likely to find a home in the collections of those who enjoy a great story and a stellar cast. Radcliffe goes far beyond the constraints of his younger roles as the star of the film. These elements make “Kill Your Darlings” an exciting and enduring tale, perfect for a night out with like-minded friends or those looking for a powder-keg evening of deep philosophical argument.