Title: Kill Your Darlings
Director: John Krokidas
Major Players: Daniel Radcliffe, Michael C Hall, Dane DeHaan
Out of five? 4.5
John Krokidas’ first feature has achieved early notoriety, thanks to the tabloids. And, when you combine cinema’s most famous boy wizard with a story about poetry, passion (both gay and straight), obsession and murder, it’s hardly surprising. But it’s a distraction from what is a very impressive debut.
The film focuses on the student years of what became the Beat Generation poets – Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster) and how a murder involving the object of Ginsberg’s affection provided the spark that brought them together.
The title belongs to William Faulkner, although the words are spoken by Ginsberg’s poetry lecturer, who explains this is what any aspiring writer must do to achieve their dreams. In other words, shake off everything that is familiar and close to their heart because they will stand in the way of success as a writer. And, although this is what Ginsberg does, the phrase rings horribly true in a more literal sense when the murder takes place. It involves the capricious Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) and his one-time lover David Kammerer (TV’s Dexter, Michael C Hall), who is still completely obsessed with him.
Through the eyes of Krokidas, student life in 1944 was about as racy as it gets. Drugs, drink, sex, passion and betrayal – they’re all there in abundance and it’s far removed from the portrait of convention that we’re used to seeing. It’s a heady mix and it makes for an absorbing, intense film that is probably one of the best I’ve seen this year.
The cast is uniformly superb. Daniel Radcliffe was the original choice to play Ginsberg but had to pull out because of other commitments. But he says he never forgot the role and, when that first version fell through, he was approached a second time to be in it and jumped at the chance. It’s a performance worth waiting for. He’s excellent as Ginsberg and is clearly a real talent. Harry Potter is well and truly gone! As Lucien Carr, Dane DeHaan is impossibly beautiful, in turn both irresistible and appallingly self-centred. And Jack Huston has real screen presence as Jack Kerouac. If this performance is anything to go by, the acting dynasty is safe in his hands.
First feature films don’t come much better than this. Krokidas is one of a clutch of new talent – David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints), J C Chandor (Margin Call, All Is Lost) – that have all made a big impression and show every sign of taking cinema into adventurous, new directions. The Beat Directors, perhaps……?
Kill Your Darlings is released in the UK on 6 December.