By Joan Ellis
“Kill Your Darlings” captures and holds an audience from first scene to last. John Krokidas and Austin Bunn – director and co-writers – have created a film about the Beat Generation poets that succeeds on every level.
That success is won by their willingness to be daring in casting, writing, and filming technique.
The Beats met as students at Columbia in the late ‘40s and created an academic and behavioral ruckus that was fueled by alcohol, drugs, sex, and a refusal to abide by the guidelines of either Columbia or the post-war culture in New York. It was a dissolute path to self-discovery. The movie covers this New York period as prelude to 1956 when Ginsberg published “Howl” and “Kerouac On the Road,” the work that put them forever on the public map.
In this movie we watch an innocent Allen Ginsberg leave his poet father and mentally impaired mother to become a freshman at Columbia. One of the first people the shy young writer encounters is Lucian Carr, trumpeting his views from the top of a library table. Their connection is immediate though Ginsberg soon sees the persistent shadow of David Kammerer who is besotted with Carr and stalks him wherever he goes.
Public disapproval by a then-homophobic culture forced these men to live a big part of their lives in secrecy.
Carr, Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs become the foundation of the Beats as they focus on Carr’s New Vision of literature that swirls chaotically around an alcohol-soaked reinvention of Bohemian creativity. At 19, they intend to recast the nature of literature.
By concentrating on the Columbia years, the filmmakers explore the seeds of the men the three became. Rebellious and arrogant, smart and original, Lucien Carr was the master magnet of the group until he went too far. It’s the familiar story of drugs, sex and alcohol undermining brilliance.
In every case, the casting in this film works superbly: Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg, Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr, Jack Huston as Jack Kerouac, Ben Foster as William Burroughs and Michael C. Hall as David Kammerer. Add a salute to the parents who raised these boys. It can’t have been easy. David Cross as Louis Ginsberg, Jennifer Jason Leigh as his wife Naomi and Kyra Sedgwick as Marian Carr.
From the disturbing elements of arrogance and betrayal, the team has made a riveting film that is aided mightily by a bold performance from Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg. This is the movie that puts Radcliffe’s earlier fame in proper perspective as his boyhood work.
Dane DeVaan’s unsettling portrait of the malicious Lucien Carr will linger, unbidden, in a deeply uncomfortable way. Working in extreme close-up, Krokidas’ imaginative camera forces the actors to reveal their characters through expression.
Writing, directing, acting, editing, and design – all of it is the work of inspired filmmakers. Unpleasant, brave, and rewarding – we don’t get many movies like this.
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.