Since the end of Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe has shown himself to be a man who can pick a role. Obviously desperate to avoid being typecast, his films since the teen wizard hung up his wand have included roles in the ongoing revival of Hammer Films, with The Woman in Black, and now the decision to portray the talented Alan Ginsberg. Kill Your Darlings is the debut feature film from director John Krokidas and portrays the formation of the Beat movement and the murder of David Kammerer. I should warn you before I get into this review that I do have a personal attachment to many of the characters. The Beats is a literature movement that I have a lot of love for and I actually wrote about On the Road and Naked Lunch for my dissertation. With the former standing as my standard answer to the ‘what’s your favourite book?’ question.
Kill Your Darlings goes back to the start of that movement at Columbia university, choosing to focus on the story of Alan Ginsberg (Radcliffe) and his friendship with Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) who he falls madly in love with. They, together with the help of Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster), make the decision to attempt to change the landscape of literature with their “New Vision”, plus a few mind altering substances. On the surface they are young people enjoying university and dreaming about changing the world. However, there is a dark underbelly to this world as in the background World War II rages and Carr is embroiled a strange relationship with the older David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall). It’s a relationship that you can never quite put your finger on, as you can never really be sure who is abusing who. Sadly it is destined to end in tragedy as Carr ended up murdering Kammerer and it is here where our film both starts and finishes.
Now obviously we are in ‘based on a true story’ territory here and anyone who is aware of the truth will notice that there has been some playing with it. However, that is always the case with this kind of film and it deals with it better than many have before. Saying that, the story can be a bit infuriating as you watch a group of young men, who are acting as if their lives are the most important thing in the world, while in the background Europe is engulfed in war. However, anyone who is aware of the Beats will be well aware that that was exactly what they were like and that self-obsession was part and parcel of their art. Taking that into account there is no denying that the young cast portray that brilliantly, with Radcliffe shining as the young, vulnerable Ginsberg, who is still trying to figure out exactly where he stands as a gay Jewish man in the early 20th century. However the real star is Dann DeHann who is intoxicating as Carr, making it very easy to sympathise with those that fall in love with him, as he enchants as the man that has been described as the glue that brought the Beats together.
The problem with this film is not in it’s performances but more in the natural restrictions of the story. As I walked out of the cinema I heard one person proclaim ‘all they did is drink a lot’ which in many ways is very true. This, much like Gatsby, is a tale that is really about middle class kids drinking, rebelling and writing poetry and there is only so many ways you can show that before it becomes a bit tedious. You are also unlikely to enjoy it if you are not already into this kind of thing, as I imagine all their pondering about the restrictions of beat and rhyme will just stand as self indulgent rubbish to anyone with no love for the subject matter. If however, you are a fan of this movement and of these characters then this is a film that gives you a good glimpse into their lives. It’s very solidly directed and brilliantly played and for that alone is probably worth the price of admission.