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Kill Your Darlings

D: John Krokidas / 104m

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, Ben Foster, David Cross, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Elizabeth Olsen, John Cullum, David Rasche

Covering the years 1943-45 while fledgling poet Allen Ginsberg (Radcliffe) was at Columbia University, Kill Your Darlings – a reference to William Faulkner – charts the growing infatuation between Ginsberg and fellow student Lucien Carr (Chronicle‘s DeHaan), their relationships with William Burroughs (Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Huston), and eventually, their roles in the murder of Dr David Kemmerer (Hall).

This is a slow burn movie, where the script strives to paint the characters as boldly as possible and with as much honesty as possible. Carr is shown as manipulative, pretentious and ultimately callow, while Ginsberg comes across as incredibly naive. As played by Radcliffe, Ginsberg is all grinning confusion and slow-on-the-uptake reactions. Unfortunately, this means that neither of them are particularly likeable (though Ginsberg edges it); as a result the movie suffers because it’s difficult to root for any of them, and when the details of the murder are revealed, any sympathies built up during the movie are swept away in a moment (though maybe that was the filmmakers’ intention).

Kill Your Darlings - scene

Like a lot of so-called “free thinkers” with plans to change the world, they’re more adept at ruining the world they live in than creating a new one. When it becomes clear that they’re no better than the system they despise, the movie starts to falter and first-timer Krokidas loses his previously sure grip on proceedings. Of the cast, Radcliffe and DeHaan acquit themselves well, while Foster exudes an icy menace as Burroughs. Hall, though, is miscast, and struggles as the doomed Kammerer. That said, Krokidas makes good use of a great cast, and allowing for the odd stumble, shows a great deal of promise. The 40’s recreation is done well, and Reed Morano’s cinematography recalls other movies from the same period. An interesting story, then, and well-mounted but it’s difficult to tell an interesting story when the main characters are so hollow inside.

Rating: 7/10 – a minor slice of history given a fair-minded treatment that doesn’t quite achieve its aims; absorbing though and another good performance from Radcliffe.