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Kill Your Darlings

Sundance 2013 Review

Sony Pictures Classics; 104 minutes

Director: John Krokidas

Written by on January 24, 2013 

With John KrokidasKill You Darlings, we are given yet another entry into the still-burgeoning Beat Generation brand. At this Sundance alone, we have been helped with two servings of Beatnik, Krokidas with Darlings and Michael Polish with Big Sur.

In this incarnation, the movement begins with a murder. It’s a compelling opening to a mostly compelling, if surprisingly standard, biopic. The central subject is Allen Ginsberg, played with considerable bravado by Daniel Radcliffe. A Jewish teen living in New Jersey with his crazy mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and put-upon father (David Cross), Ginsberg gets into Columbia University, and his life changes forever.

A large part of this change comes thanks to a beautiful blonde rebel named Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), who challenges Ginsberg to break out of his shell and experiment in every way possible. Soon enough, Ginsberg is infatuated with Lucien and the group of artists he’s surrounded himself with, including a young William Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston). There’s also the older David Kammerer, played by an extra creepy Michael C. Hall. The deeper Ginsberg falls for Lucien, the clearer David’s dependence on the young rebel becomes, and vice versa.

Fast-paced and full of energy, Kill Your Darlings does its very best to expose the importance of the Beat movement and the individual importance of all those involved. Ginsberg, Burroughs and Kerouac are each given their origin stories, the three young men growing up around the tragedy of Lucien Carr and David Kammerer.

And while this be the most engaging cinematic adaptation of the movements since David Cronenberg’s superbly strange Naked Lunch, there is still something missing. Despite its snappy direction – impressive considering this is Krokidas’ feature debut – and solid performances, the investment in these characters as real human beings never fully lands.

We are always watching Daniel Radcliffe play Allen Ginsberg and Ben Foster play William Burrough and so on and so forth. Everything is explained a bit too much, every character turn a bit too tidy. Watching portraits of these particular artists as young men serves as a most interesting history lesson, but portraits they remain. The film’s climax, in which we are required to be fully engulfed in Ginsberg’s love/hate for Carr, is slightly muted by this arm’s length of emotional resonance.

Somewhere, lurking in the corner of some book written by Kerouac or Ginsberg or Burroughs, is a tale that will expose this artistic renaissance in all of its full, tragic glory. Krokidas is close here. Damn close.


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