In 1944, young, aspiring poet Allen Ginsberg gets into Columbia University and meets the charismatic student Lucien Carr who introduces him to a whole group of young writers, including William Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) who would eventually be credited with starting the Beat Generation. Together the four set out to challenge the rules of the classic accepted forms of writing and poetry, experience jazz, and throw caution and conformity out the window. But when an older man, David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), from Lucien’s past keeps following and injecting himself into Lucien’s life, it causes friction between Lucien and Allen who seem to always be on the verge of becoming more than just good friends. Later when Kammerer is found dead under suspicious circumstances, it leads the police to arrest Kerouac and Carr as lead suspects. This brings Ginsberg to a crossroads in his young life: does he do what Lucien requests and write his defense for him or does he seek out the truth of what really happened?
Stylish and well-acted, Kill Your Darlings is a dramatic biopic that captures the look and feel of the mid-1940s in America but sadly comes up short on the plot. Daniel Radcliffe delivers a stand-out performance as young Ginsberg struggling to escape his suffocating home life and break free to discover his own voice in the writing world. He has great chemistry with DeHaan’s Lucien as he becomes more and more enamored with Carr’s allure and charm. Dane DeHaan is perfectly cast as Carr, the manipulative rebel of Columbia who’s struggling with his own demons and trying to find a way out of mistakes he’s made in his past.
Michael C. Hall is very effective as Kammerer, the older friend/ex-lover of Carr who refuses to let the young man leave him behind. It’s a sad and disturbing performance of a pathetic and obsessed person.
The look and production of the film is excellent, bringing back the clothes, cars, streets, hairstyles, furniture, and a much newer and cleaner Columbia of the 1940s. The audience is almost guaranteed to feel as though they were transported back in time when America was at war and a new generation of writers were just beginning to find their unique voice.
With all the above average performances and great production value it’s shame that the story and pacing of the film isn’t stronger. Instead of focusing on the mysterious murder that affected these young men so much that it haunted them much later in life and changed their outlook on life, the writer and director Jon Krokidas spends way too much time on the young men’s rebellion against the literary society. Montages of the young friends tearing up books and writing while under the influence of new drugs and alcohol is all too familiar, and to be honest has been done better many times before. The infatuation between Ginsberg and Carr eventually becomes old and flat, as does the story. Instead of being suspenseful, even the scene with the murder is a tedious bore – as is half of the film.
Even with its commanding performances, Kill Your Darlings ultimately falls short of delivering an engaging and intriguing film about the young influential writers who helped form and define a generation.
Kill Your Darlings is rated R for sexual content, language, drug use and brief violence.
– By Kevin Finnerty
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