When Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Redcliffe) is accepted into Columbia University, he knows that the move away from home – and his ailing mother – could be the change he is looking for. When he meets Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) however, his world is changed in a way he could never have imagined.
There seems to be a resurgence of love and curiosity about the Beat poets and artists lately; Kill Your Darlings is the second film in recent years to feature Jack Kerouac as a character – after On The Road. It is undeniable that there is something fascinating about the chaotic lives led by these people, but Kill Your Darlings is another example of how trying to encapsulate the chaotic on screen does not always work.
Daniel Radcliffe takes another step away from Harry Potter as Ginsberg, and finally loses the preachy and breathy way of speaking that he cultivated in his most famous role. This is a marked change of pace and direction for the actor, and he almost rises to the challenge. Sadly for Radcliffe, he is overshadowed by the smouldering performance given by Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr. DeHaan perfectly encapsulates a man who was as charming as he was dangerous, and drew people to him before leaving them behind. Ben Foster gives a nuanced but overlooked performance as William Burroughs, and Michael C. Hall reminds us that he has range and emotin after his stoic role in Dexter. Elizabeth Olsen turns up in a lovely little cameo as Kerouac’s beleaguered girlfriend Edie.
Screenwriters John Krokidas and Austin Bunn approached the material in a different manner than On The Road, showing the characters devising, creating and challenging their manifesto, while showcasing the deep bond between these men. However, the film is let down by a murder mystery that is seemingly shoehorned in for the sake of giving the film an ending, and that chaos of the characters’ lives leads to a jumbled and sometimes confusing story. As well as this, the characters’ convictions are somehow downgraded, and come off as posturing and practical jokes, rather than an examination of the birth of an influential and important period in American creativity.
As director, John Krokidas plays up the chemistry between Carr and his cohorts, which leads to some genuinely tender and moving moments between Radcliffe and the object of his affections. Stylish as the film is – and it certainly looks fantastic – it somehow collapses under the weight of its heavy story; the lighter scenes are dealt with cleverly and almost mischievously, but as soon as morality and emotion come into play, the film feels lost.
Kill Your Darlings is an undeniably stylish piece of work, and DeHaan shines as Lucien Carr. Radcliffe takes a step away from his most famous role, but the fascination with the Beat artists is lost in a jumbled, chaotic and slightly messy film.