Review: In ‘Kill Your Darlings,’ Director John Krokidas Moves to His Own ‘Beat’

By October 18, 2013
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It’s no secret that the work of Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, William Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac has beguiled readers since the 1950s.  But perhaps a lesser known story is that the four men were friends and hugely influential to one another. These fascinating relationships are marvelously captured in John Krokidas’ debut film Kill Your Darlings. All the more intriguing is what primarily made the men so connected: the 1944 murder of David Krammerer.

While attending Columbia University, Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), Burroughs (Ben Foster), and Kerouac (Jack Huston) form a close bond with Carr (Dane DeHann). So when Krammerer (Michael C. Hall), a man with a severe attachment to Carr, is brutally killed, all four of the budding writers are accused of being involved and arrested. Kill Your Darlings centers on this crucial incident in the writers’ lives – a period in time that would later effect them personally and creatively.

The film’s release comes after a successful festival circuit run, where it racked up tremendous praise and began to establish Krokidas as a promising new filmmaker. Its best asset is the passion that went into it, evident in each scene. The characters are handled with tremendous care and brought to life in a way that’s refreshingly subtle. The actors’ take on their characters never feels like a tired imitation but rather an educated interpretation.

While two recent films, Howl (2010) and On the Road (2012), somewhat capture the intricacy of the Beat Generation, Kill Your Darlings goes a step further. The drama will please Beatnik enthusiasts as well as those who are unfamiliar with their work, and it’s also likely to recruit a few new admirers to the movement in the process. Furthermore, Krokidas and the film’s co-writer Austin Bunn prove to be talented wordsmiths in their own right.

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The sharp script is brought to life with fervor by its unconventional but welcomed cast. Even in mediocre fare like The Woman in Black, Radcliffe has proven his career has a shelf life beyond the Harry Potter series. Here he allows audiences who are probably unfamiliar with his stunning performance in Broadway’s Equus, to see how fearless an actor he can be. However, his boyishness does threaten the rawness of his performance at times.

After his riveting portrayal of Ryan Gosling’s son in this year’s The Place Beyond the Pines, it’s clear that DeHaan is an exciting emerging talent. His level of recognition will surely soar next year following the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, in which he stars as Harry Osborn, but for now he still remains under the radar. His Carr is engaging and sympathetic while maintaining an edge. Huston, one of the main draws of “Boardwalk Empire,” has his fare share of scene-stealing moments. His old-school Hollywood charisma has a great deal to do with that. Yet his character, as well as Foster’s, feel somewhat underwritten when aligned with the film’s two central players.

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As in On the Road,  music is essential to telling this particular story. The budding New York jazz scene makes for an appealing backdrop and contributes to the film’s authenticity, and the same may be said of the set pieces and inventive costumes. You get the sense that there was no better time to be an artist in New York City. That said, we also see the limitations of the era (most notably homophobia) through Ginsberg’s eyes.

The film’s essential flaw is that it never quite delves into the men’s lives as much as one may have hoped. Sure, there are plenty of exciting new details that emerge, but there are moments of unnecessary vagueness that at times leave the viewer wanting more. But what Kill Your Darlings lacks in breaking new ground, it makes up for in energy and entertainment.

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Justine Browning
Justine is a film and culture reporter whose work has appeared in USA Today, Indie Wire and The Huffington Post. She currently serves as an on-camera correspondent for MovieWeb and Cine Movie TV.