Years after Daniel Radcliffe was originally cast as poet Allen Ginsberg, rookie full-length film director John Krokidas’s Kill Your Darlings finally premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. The film, co-written by Krokidas and Austin Bunn, explores Ginsberg’s relationship with Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), which brought together now-legendary writers Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster). Michael C. Hall rounds out the phenomenal ensemble cast as David Kammerer, whose story would later be explored by Kerouac and Burroughs.
Kill Your Darlings starts with Ginsberg’s acceptance into Columbia University, following the relationship he quickly formed with Carr. The film’s fast-paced beginning is perhaps its weakest element, a cliché chronicle of self-indulgent college students who meet and cannot stop sharing their enlightened views of the world. Fortunately, Kill Your Darlings switches tones at a certain point and becomes a heartbreaking portrayal of actual 1944 events that would inevitably shape the lives of some of the generation’s greatest writers.
While the pacing of the screenplay isn’t perfect, the performances in Kill Your Darlings keep its quality high. Carr goes from truly insufferable to genuinely sympathetic throughout the film, thanks to the perfect performance by DeHaan. Hall, of Dexter and Six Feet Under television royalty, appears totally transformed as from his very first moments on screen he is stealing scenes and breaking hearts.
Radcliffe also gives one of the best performances of his career as Ginsberg, who goes from a wide-eyed, studious undergrad to a drugged-up dropout. Clearly, this isn’t Radcliffe’s first attempt to breakout of his Harry Potter persona, but it’s one of his best. Such a complex and unusual character has truly provided him with an excellent medium to show his acting range.
The in-cohesive script in Kill Your Darlings adequately reflects Ginsberg’s experience, easing the audience into the relationship between Lucien and David slowly, with time to reflect and wonder. Their complex history is ultimately the center of the movie, with Ginsberg’s story almost serving as a framing device. The earlier focus on Ginsberg – complete with hallucinogenic visions and raging party scenes – seems truly insignificant and small by the end of the film. What starts seemingly as a biopic about Allen Ginsberg slowly morphs into a private look into the truth of a murder.
Kill Your Darlings eventually utilizes the potential of the Lucien/David relationship, but in the meantime, we’re left with the Ginsberg plotline. It’s not perfect, but Radcliffe’s portrayal adds a sympathy-inducing innocence to the character. The film’s earlier sequences are marked with surreal visuals, bumpin’ music, and endearingly comical performances by the supporting cast. Namely, Foster’s dry and monotonous Burroughs serves as a constant source of amusement, on screen just enough to stay fresh.
The cast is rounded with smaller supporting roles, with Elizabeth Olsen as Kerouac’s Edie Parker, David Cross as Louis Ginsberg, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as as Naomi Ginsberg. Olsen is tragically underused, and while Cross and Leigh’s characters fail to add much to the film, they serve to characterize Allen. But no matter how well Leigh portrays his mentally ill mother, their characters are overshadowed by Lucien and David.
Kill Your Darlings is a two-toned film, with one half being remarkably more emotional and hard-hitting than the other. Incredible performances remain consistent throughout, until the film’s terrific ending. Most of all though, Radcilffe proves once again that he is more than just Harry Potter in this borderline-unbelievable true story.