DIR: John Krokidas • WRI: Austin Bunn, John Krokidas • PRO: Michael Benaroya, Rose Ganguzza, John Krokidas Christine Vachon • DOP: Reed Morano • ED: Brian A. Kates • DES: Stephen H. Carter • MUS: Nico Muhly • CAST: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, Ben Foster
Kill Your Darlings focuses on the formative years of American poet Allen Ginsberg, one of the writers of the Beat Generation who came to prominence in the 1950s. The film traces the movement’s emergence in wartime Columbia University and the part Ginsberg played in the killing of David Kammerer. It’s a sensational romantic thriller.
Ginsberg leaves his paranoid mother to study at Columbia, where the teachers insist on maintaining traditional forms. Ginsberg, inspired by Walt Whitman, seeks to break the rules. His willingness to question orthodoxy impresses Lucien Carr, who invites him into the gay scene of 1940s New York. Their circle includes a young William S. Burroughs and, later, Jack Kerouac. Ginsberg becomes infatuated with Carr, whose involvement with an older man, David Kammerer, creates difficulties for the group, who wish to pursue “a new vision”, motivated by the taboo-breaking works of James Joyce and Henry Miller.
The playing is impeccable. Daniel Radcliffe, as Allen Ginsberg, continues to distance himself from the role that made him famous, and he more than holds his own among an impressive cast. His scenes with Dane DeHaan, as Lucien Carr, are among the most sexually charged in recent memory. Ben Foster exercises restraint in portraying William S. Burroughs, while Michael C. Hall (TV’s Dexter) and David Cross (Arrested Development’s Tobias Fünke) also succeed in playing outside their more celebrated roles.
John Krokidas makes his directorial debut, displaying great skill in his treatment of controversial material. He treats Ginsberg’s romance with Lucien with apposite tenderness. He also injects the film with wicked humour. His rapid-fire montages include frank images that surprise as much as they amuse. His use of flashbacks and playing scenes in reverse are effective in depicting the effects of the drugs that Burroughs, in particular, encourages his associates to use.
The flaw in Krokidas’ choices is his use of music from TV on the Radio and Bloc Party on the soundtrack. These selections are jarring when the period detail and costuming are as good as they are.
But that’s a minor grumble. Kill Your Darlings is an accomplished first feature with superb performances. Sexy, stylish and sophisticated, it tells an engrossing story about fascinating people.
Kill Your Darlings is released on 6th December 2013