Craig's First Take: "Kill Your Darlings"

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A murder in 1944 draws together the great poets of the beat generation: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Ben Foster, Elizabeth Olsen, Kyra Sedgwick, Michael C. Hall & Jennifer Jason Leigh.
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“Kill Your Darlings” is a relatively easy-to-follow story of homosexuality, murder, and the young wanting to throw off the shackles of the old in favor of expressing their own voice. But what exactly is debut director and co-writer John Krokidas trying to say with this? He gets terrific performances here from actors like Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan, that again prove both are on the verge of super stardom, just I failed at finding the point.

It’s all about the beatnik generation, particularly Allen Ginsberg (Radcliffe) and Lucien Carr (DeHaan) meeting each other at Columbia University. Both are interested in shirking the rules that define a poem in favor of a new movement, one that Lucien wants Allen to help him create. William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) are also on hand but take more supporting roles. Only Ginsberg, the son of a writer (David Cross) and mentally ill mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh), has no idea what to write about while Carr isn’t even doing his own assignments in class.

Those are being done by David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), an older man who figures heavily in Carr’s life for years, and not in a good way. Sandwiched in between this story of poetic reimagining is the nature of their relationship, which itself would make an interesting, disturbing film yet you feel like you’re only getting snippets here. It’s loaded with exploitation and trauma, and the last half hour of “Darlings” is at its best when detailing the murder it eventually led to.

The poetry movement comes off as decidedly less interesting. Ginsberg taking a German wonder drug or plumbing the depths of his mind (the later set to Jazz background music) are kind of fun but overall this movie focuses on writers block, not the great poets these guys would become. And Krokidas tries to make some sort of correlation between the murder and Ginsberg’s later work but ends the film before he can explore those later years.

Course I’ve buried the lead here which is “Harry Potter is going homosexual”, kissing guys and even offering himself up for anal in one scene. But this is overall a terrific performance, playing a strait-laced kid learning to come out of his shell. His feelings for Carr, who served as his guide to a deeper life, are well felt. DeHaan is even better though as Carr, a pretentious, manipulative, fun-loving person who hid deeper trauma. “Kill Your Darlings” feels a bit all over the place, but these performances show two actors who are going to be exciting for years to come.