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New Release Review - Kill Your Darlings

Dramatization of Allen Ginsberg's relationship with Lucien Carr.

Directed by: John Krokidas
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, Ben Foster, Elizabeth Olsen, Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Cross




In 1943 Allen Ginsberg (Radcliffe) is accepted into the prestigious Columbia University. Once there, he finds it a stodgy and oppressive institute, designed to churn out writers like factory workers. Unlike Ginsberg, his classmates seem more interested in playing sports and chasing girls than becoming great writers. All except one: Lucien Carr (DeHaan), an arrogant young man with a poetic turn of phrase ("She smelled of imported sophistication and domestic cigarettes") who quickly grabs the attention of Ginsberg. The two become friends but Ginsberg, a closet homosexual, wants to take things further. Standing in the way is David Kammerer (Hall), a janitor who is actually the real writer of the work Carr is passing off as his own.
Kill Your Darlings starts off in exhilarating fashion, plunging us into the entitled world of those young men fortunate enough not to find themselves waist high in French mud in 1943. We join Ginsberg, Carr, Jack Kerouac (Huston) and William Burroughs (Foster) as they traverse the Jazz clubs of Manhattan, experimenting with drugs and formulating plans to change what they saw as the stodgy world of traditional literature (now, watching them tear up Dickens does them no favors). The period recreation is contained but convincing and the soundtrack pulses to a bebop beat. Halfway through, however, things start to go the way of Baz Luhrmann when contemporary rock tunes make an appearance, immediately taking us out of the world. I'm sure first time director John Krokidas would tell you this is his way of allowing modern youth to identify with Ginsberg and chums, but a film-maker who has to resort to such a crude technique has little faith in the story he's telling.
The relationship between Carr and Kammerer would seem to provide more dramatic appeal than that of Ginsberg and Carr, the pairing Krokidas and writer Austin Bunn focus on here. As Carr spins it, Kammerer is using him for sexual favors in return for writing his Columbia essays. Carr insists he's heterosexual but the film-makers strongly suggest he's at least bisexual, having DeHaan cast lots of lingering gazes toward Radcliffe. If the film had spent more time delving into the dynamic between Carr and Kammerer it may have had to invent a few facts, but it would have made for a more interesting tale.
Krokidas seems unsure as to what story he's actually telling, and at times the film resembles a cross between Animal House and Larry Clark's Bully, but our attention is held by the brilliant ensemble acting. DeHaan gives us the breakout performance he's threatened viewers with over the past couple of years and his wounded energy recalls James Dean or a young DiCaprio. Radcliffe has certainly put his Harry Potter legacy behind him and is quietly impressive playing the not-quite-straight man to the explosive DeHaan. The always great Foster gets Burroughs' distinctive voice down pat. Olsen is wasted in a two scene cameo that's indicative of the film's streak of misogyny. Girls, the movie suggests, only attended Columbia to meet boys and a terribly misjudged scene where Radcliffe seduces a horny librarian in order to steal a set of keys feels like an outtake from an American Pie sequel.
The meat of Kill Your Darlings' story is buried beneath the film's showiness. Ultimately, it's a film as immature as its protagonists but one whose energetic performances hold your gaze throughout.
6/10


Eric Hillis

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