In an effort that has taken 10 years, director John Krokidas has assembled a young, fresh cast to finally bring his passion project to the screen. Kill Your Darlings is an energetic look at the early days of the Beat Generation and a portrait of the four men that sparked a literary revolution.
Set in 1944, a young Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) is accepted to Colombia University to study writing. There he meets a charming character by the name of Lucien Carr (Dane Dehaan), and is immediately smitten. Allen is introduced to Lucien’s friend and fellow poet, William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster), a man from a rich family more concerned with rebelling and taking drugs than making his parents happy. Together they spark an idea that changes the literary scene in New York. They decide they are going to mount an insurgence against the established confines of society through their writing.
Lucien’s lover, David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) is a former professor who has taken a job as a janitor at Columbia so that he can be close to him. He writes Lucien’s papers in exchange for a relationship. Lucien has also met another writer by the name of Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and has pulled him into his circle of chaos. David, however, doesn’t take too kindly to Lucien’s new and intense friendships with Allen and Jack, and becomes increasingly jealous and aggressive. Lucien becomes desperate and vows to get rid of him. Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Kerouac all become entangled in the notorious murder of Kammerer, as Carr is thrown in jail and charged. Lucien asks Allen for his help in writing his deposition, but Allen is unsure what to do. These events inspire these men to go on to become some of the most influential American writers of the 20th century but their circle of friendship has been ripped apart.
The film does not set out to be a political story, as it is initially just a portrait of these fascinating men, but the situation and the time period inherently make it into one. These men are revolutionizing literature, societal constraints, and sexual boundaries. In a time when America was concerned with the war in Europe and when a murderer could claim it to be an honour killing if the deceased was accused of being a homosexual, something new was beginning.
Daniel Radcliffe, a supporter of this project for several years, is emerging as a classic movie star. In a role far removed from his Harry Potter days, Radcliffe shows us that he’s not just a former child star that was lucky to be cast in the role that made him famous, he is now an actor earning his place and stretching his abilities. He fully commits to the role as he embodies Ginsberg and takes a commanding presence on screen. His on-screen chemistry will co-star DeHaan is palpable and authentic and together they shine.
This is an accessible and enjoyable film for those who may be unfamiliar with the story and are seeking an entry point. This is a highly personal project for the director, having been influenced by the Beat poets as a young gay teenager, and it shows in his competent execution of the material. He takes great care in coaxing truthful, emotional performances out of the actors and shows great insight during the quieter intimate moments. John Krokidas shows great promise and this strong debut film should afford him the opportunity to continue directing. This is a talent that will return.