Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall
Directed by: John Krokidas (debut)
Written by: John Krokidas (debut) and Austin Bunn (debut)
As Beat Generation icon Allen Ginsberg, actor Daniel Radcliffe (“Woman in Black”) continues his pursuit to shed the skin of another iconic character, Harry Potter, who he played on the big screen in eight movies from 2001-2012. While the trendy bifocals don’t help his cause, this is the closest Radcliffe has gotten to helping audiences realize that he, like his fellow “Potter” cast mate Emma Watson (sorry Rupert Grint), can definitely have a flourishing career post-“Potter.” In “Kill Your Darlings,” his portrayal of Ginsberg is effective and the overall film is much more interesting than what James Franco did with the character in the unfocused 2010 niche drama “Howl.” The counter-culture story, however, becomes disarrayed as the picture moves further and further into a true-to-life tale of murder.
Where first-time director and co-writer John Krokidas gets it right is introducing audiences to Ginsberg as he starts out at Columbia University. Scenes where Ginsberg meets the likes of fellow writers including Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster) are compelling as we watch what would become the start of the Beat Generation (they call their group “The New Vision”) begins to mold into something substantial. If audiences don’t know much about the era, these specific scenes give you a Hollywoodized version of the story, but each of them build on one another well enough to understand why these young men leaned on each other for support and show what they were trying to accomplish from a literary standpoint during the 1950s.
Where the film begins to lose momentum, however, is during the explanation of the relationship between Carr and the older an infatuated David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), who Carr would ultimately kill in 1944 after Kammerer makes an unwanted sexual advance toward him in Riverside Park in Manhattan. While the murder itself would make a profound impact on all the lives of these groundbreaking writers, everything that leads up to this climax is sloppily tied into the more thought-provoking coming-of-age narrative we still haven’t really had the chance to fully see in anything Beat Generation-related that has recently been made (“Howl,” “On the Road”).
“Kill Your Darlings” makes the best attempt at defining these young men, but there’s no denying that Krokidas and co-writer Austin Bunn’s storytelling is motivated by murder. Sure, it’s the easiest angle to sell, but there’s so much more to the story that comes before that only gets footnote treatment. From a cultural perspective, it is not nearly enough to keep audiences intrigued.