Director: John Krokidas
Writers: Austin Bunn, John Krokidas
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, Elizabeth Olsen, Jack Huston, Ben Foster, David Cross, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Running time: 104 minutes
A young Allen Ginsberg (Radcliffe) attends Columbia University in 1944 where he meets Lucien (DeHaan), an abstract-minded aspiring philosopher with worldly ideas on art and culture. What begins as a sophisticated, caring friendship soon turns sinister as a murder plot unravels.
Kill Your Darlings is a debut foray into feature filmmaking for John Krokidas, and it’s with this is mind that we become all the more impressed by it. Directed with supreme confidence and bravado from the opening movement til the last, despite the flaws that can be found within it, the film (based on true events) is always completely sure of itself and its surroundings. As we center on the young writers of the beat era, we open proceedings with a blustery vibe; swing tracks accompany us on journeys through New York’s lower east side as we visit raucous parties inhabited by young, fight-the-system philosophers who need to get sozzled before anything coherent comes out of their mouths, and jazz clubs packed with smoking sophisticates subtextually analyzing the world. We’re tricked into thinking we’re going to see a Social Network in the 40s, a film about writers writing and inspiration striking through deep-headed, worldly conversations fueled by Chianti.
But just as we’ve come to terms with that, the film takes a striking turn and becomes something far more telling of its title. As the relationship between Allen and Lucien begins to fracture, murder rears its ugly head and takes a hold of proceedings, ushering in a real dark, somber air to the picture. In no small part due to being a well-handled shift in tone from Krokidas, who clearly has a knack for pacing and displays promising signs of wicked individual style, the script deserves equal plaudits for being so intelligent yet aggressive. Just as Ginsberg and co. are attempting to break the rules of rhyme and verse, Austin Bunn and Krokidas’ script breaks the mould by lathering the opening act with melodious dialogue before juxtaposing it with rambunctious set-pieces in an altogether different tale.
Yet oddly, when the drama does make this shift, everything becomes just a little less interesting. Despite the enormity of the new subject matter, the murder plot proves to yield less compelling interactions between the characters – chiefly Allen and Lucien. Perhaps it’s to do with too many plot strands coming into the fray and getting lost within each other that we begin to lose grasp of a central narrative.
Daniel Radcliffe’s Potter days are fast diminishing behind him as he swiftly moves through the film world taking on interesting, tough roles. I’m a big fan of the guy; not only is he a brilliant actor but he’s really intelligent, articulate, and seems to be a genuinely nice guy who cares deeply about his craft. One of the most refreshing things about the way he’s bridged the gap between Harry Potter and his adult career is that he’s never tried too hard to claim controversial or “grown-up” roles for the sake of getting out of that typecast image. Often a young teen star will go out of their way to become the polar opposite of how their fame began (*cough* Miley Cyrus), but the roles Radcliffe has taken since his Potter days feel natural to him. Any that have been “grown-up” – his portrayal of Ginsberg here would certainly fall into that category – are incidental to him being perfect for the role. For that reason, I think he’s one of the best actors of his generation.
As Ginsberg, Radcliffe really commits himself. There’s no doubt that this is his best performance to date, but it’s a role that requires a certain amount of courage to get through some of the more headline-grabbing scenes. Listening to Radcliffe discuss the role, he clearly had no qualms about performing some of the actions required of him, and simply cared about making a great film, which I find admirable. While it’s undeniable that some of those said actions are a times a little uncomfortable to watch, you can’t help but be won over by his strength and maturity.
Dane DeHaan is equally as brilliant. He’s been rising to prominence over the last few years with excellent turns in the likes of Chronicle, Lawless and The Place Beyond The Pines, and his performance opposite Radcliffe in Kill Your Darlings is once more simply effortless and searing. The balance he brings to Lucien is scary at times, drifting from confident, philosophical and blase to subdued, fractured and intimidated, and then back again, in the same scene. It would be nice to see the two of them begin to garner awards attention.
Forgetting, for a moment, the main names, Kill Your Darlings is shot absolutely beautifully by Reed Morano, who has clearly worked hard with her director to capture the essence of the 40s with deftly-lit sets and a muskiness that might be intentional or might just be the smoke billowing from the characters’ mouths. The more intimate sequences, like the late night Jazz clubs and seedy parties, are particularly impressive, and bring us into the scene with Allen and Lucien rather than just have us sit back and watch it.
While Kill Your Darlings isn’t always entirely satisfying dramatically, it’s an intelligent and subversive film that boasts some really, really impressive performances and exciting potential from a vibrant director.