Kill Your Darlings makes me want to be a better writer. Sure, John Krokidas’ historical retelling of the “Beat Generation” visionaries who attempted to turn society upside down is a fantastic watch that brings to life real literary geniuses like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, but I’ll admit that the whole time I couldn’t help but be a tad jealous.
These mad scientists of the written word could conjure up beautiful workings at the drop of a dime, but they also played by their own rules. These guys were the French Revolutionaries of literature, springing a movement to banish the constraints of rhyme and meter, and hot damn that looked fun. Their intellect intoxicating and their methods unorthodox, these hipster wordsmiths made me dream of being on their other-worldly level, pissing off the dinosaurs one word at a time. These men are idols, rewriting the book and becoming incredibly successful through passion and individuality, like poetic rockstars. Their story is legendary, and our characters provide scene after scene of pure cinematic bliss. John Krokidas, thank you for transporting me back to a swinging New York City full of magic, mystery, and murder.
In 1944, the death of David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) linked together some of the greatest literary talents soon to come. Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), and William Burroughs (Ben Foster) all became acquaintances after meeting renegade soul Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), as Ginsberg himself befriends Carr while attending Columbia. Becoming enamored with Carr, a man intent on experiencing all of life’s beauty by not conforming, Ginsberg finds himself in a world surrounded by experimental drugs, dreams of grandeur, and promises of a “New Vision.” Together, these men were going to erase classical poetry from history all together, bringing a societal reckoning that would spark a generational change. That’s until Carr starts spinning out of control because of Kammerer’s newfound jealously…
I’m not sure where to start here, because writer/director John Krokidas’ debut feature shows no signs of inexperience, rookie mistakes, or first-timer flubs. Kill Your Darlings is an invigorating, exciting, and dazzlingly hypnotic period piece that recreates one of the most creatively influential times in American pop-culture, introducing smooth jazz clubs, swanky drinkers, enlightening “enhancements,” and free-spirited thinking, and does so with style, grace, and an enthralling story. Krokidas creates a hustling, bustling, lively New York City landscape, providing perfectly crafted set pieces and wonderful moments that audiences will get lost in, making you want to Jitterbug up and down the aisles. In recreating a time of cool cats and swinging ladies, Krokidas delivers a living, breathing city with a vibrant pulse, almost making our backdrops a character of their own.
Sorry, I shouldn’t be confusing you, because Kill Your Darlings is about the murder of David Kammerer, which we can’t forget, as all the events are based on true facts. Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs are all real people who have had their stories re-told over and over again, including their ties to the Kammerer murder, yet Krokidas is able to create a biographical film that’s consistently captivating, presenting old facts in a new, rejuvenated manner.
Such feats aren’t all Krokidas’ doing though, as Kill Your Darlings sports one of the most talented casts of the year. The likes of Michael C. Hall, Ben Foster, Jack Huston, Elizabeth Olsen, David Cross, and Jennifer Jason Leigh all delight, with Foster turning in a brilliantly subdued role as William Burroughs especially, but this is DeHaan and Radcliffe’s show all the way.
Allen Ginsberg is arguably the most famous of the icons, and Daniel Radcliffe provides an absolutely electric performance, showing a quirky, fun, yet complex side to Radcliffe as an actor. This is his first breakout role since the Harry Potter series in my eyes (besides getting naked live on stage?), and Daniel makes the absolute most of playing such an eccentric mind waiting to be corrupted. Ginsberg’s relationship with Carr is crucial for the story though, and this might be where Radcliffe shines brightest, establishing undertones with DeHaan while maximizing an entrancing chemistry between the two. Ginsberg is played with subtlety and wonder just as he should have been, having his eyes opened to this new vision, as Radcliffe turns in what I believe to be the best performance of his career so far.
Not to be outdone is Dane DeHaan, playing an infinitely more perplexing character in Lucian Carr, and doing so with swagger. For those of you wondering what that word means, take it as a new-age term mixing gravitas, style, confidence, and straight-up balls. Dane perfectly accentuates that mysterious drifter vibe which Carr used to draw people in, gaining friends out of curiosity almost. For as crazy as Ginsberg was, Carr was ten times crazier, giving DeHaan plenty of opportunities to flex acting muscles that will surely open every possible door left for this ever-budding talent, as Lucian Carr will easily go down as one of 2013’s most mesmerizing characters. Daniel Radcliffe provides some astounding competition, but Dane DeHaan met Radcliffe’s challenge and delivered what could possibly be an award worthy performance.
I’m going to shut myself up now because I could sit here all day writing about why Kill Your Darlings is the best movie I’ve seen all year (in fairness, so far), from the infectiously cued-up soundtrack that elevates scene cohesion, to the perfectly paced screenplay – but nobody’s got time for that. Krokidas’ stunning cinematic achievement transports audiences back in time for a historically endearing departure from normalcy, uncovering a story that’s too juicy to be true, yet is. Fearless performances, breathtaking cinematography, foot-tapping music, a firm structure – Kill Your Darlings is one of the year’s most important must see movies. Do yourself a favor, don’t miss this one.
Kill Your Darlings is nothing short of brilliant, defining a generation through the actions of one small, yet influential, group of literary warriors, and the unexpected turbulence they faced.