Thursday, 5 December 2013


Sony Pictures

Now Showing

Before the Beat poets -- Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs -- became a voice of a generation, they were a peculiar mix of idealists and dreamers, each with a rebellious streak and a vein of thinly-disguised homoeroticism. And in 1944, all of those elements fused in a heady cocktail of sex, drugs, and alcohol -- and murder.

That summation probably makes Kill Your Darlings, writer-director John Krokidas' feature debut, sound more exciting and salacious than it is, although on the hallowed grounds of Columbia University, 1944, it no doubt was. That's where a young Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) comes to study literature but is less enamoured with his professors' view of the world than he is with that of fellow student, Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan).

Magnetic yet enigmatic, Carr doesn't have time for rules -- of literature, the campus, or the law -- which is probably why he was expelled from his previous university and also why he and his mother (Kyra Sedgewick) fled Chicago. It would also explain his less than savoury association with David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), whose interest in Lucien seems to be a confused mix of mentor and predator. But it's when Kammerer is murdered (not a spoiler, it's the opening scene; the film then circling back), that the true nature of Lucien is revealed to Allen who until then is besotted with his fellow idealist in spite of the passive-aggressive nature of their friendship.

Although bespectacled, Radcliffe sheds his Potter alter ego (and his clothes on occasion) as the young Ginsberg; out to make his own way in the world away from a published poet father (David Cross) and a mentally unstable mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and navigating his sexuality in an America at war and still some 20 years away from the 'summer of love'. It's through Ginsberg's eyes we witness events, and even if it's a mostly passive role the former boy wizard Radcliffe acquits himself well.

But it's DeHaan's Lucien who pulls focus. Reminiscent of a young DiCaprio, DeHaan is all limbs, painful smile and sweaty complexion yet you can't take your eyes off of him. You can see why Ginsberg, Kammerer and even the college jock-cum-author Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) were drawn to him. Lucien was a rebel without a cause almost a decade before James Dean, and DeHaan makes him a live wire.

It's debatable if Krokidas' inability to infuse the rest of Kill Your Darlings with the frenzied fervour of its protagonists (including a barely recognisable Ben Foster as Burroughs) marks it as a failure; it certainly exceeds as a well mounted period drama if not as hot-blooded as such literary firebrands demand.

But never having read any of the Beat poets (for shame), perhaps I'm given to be more lenient; I'm one of the few who seemed to enjoy Walter Salles' sprawling 2012 adaptation of Kerouac's seminal On The Road. I certainly feel more inspired to seek them out, so that's some kind of achievement on Krokidas' and the film's part.

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