There is no denying the pretentiousness that exists within John Krokidas’ Kill Your Darlings, as a film that bears unfavourable similarities to the likes of Liberal Arts: a picture that shamelessly name-drops authors and their work. Conversely, this particular piece actually triumphs as it’s not showing off its intelligent library of citations, and instead we’re going straight to the point of reference, as we take a trip back to the beat generation and focus in on a group of poets and literary giants in the peak of their anarchic and disorderly adolescent years. The cringe-worthy sequences are expected, and ultimately, embraced.
Looking predominantly from the perspective of the ambitious writer Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), we watch on as he begins life at Columbia University – where he meets his rebellious and beguiling classmate Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), forging a blossoming friendship that will change both of their lives forever. As Ginsberg come out of his shell, and is more inclined to take some risks in life, he gradually becomes a focal point for the collective, which also includes creative, literary friends William Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston). However, matters grow somewhat complicated as he becomes infatuated with his new lifestyle – and Carr in particular – causing a fascinating set of events to unravel, with professor David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) at the heart of proceedings.
It’s intriguing to delve into this world through Ginsberg’s eyes, as we view Carr and Kammerer’s tumultuous relationship from an outside source. From a dramatic perspective, Ginsberg is the least interesting character, but he is the most relatable role, and allows for the audience to peer into the group’s action with a curious and somewhat naïve frame of mind. Krokidas should be commended for not glamourising or romanticising the group’s actions simply because of who they are. Not that they are vilified either, it just remains an honest portrayal.
The era is depicted well also, and not only does it look authentic, but the whole spirit and atmosphere surrounding the beat generation is matched with an appropriate score, complementing the narrative wonderfully. Krokidas is not afraid to implement contemporary music either, bringing in the likes of The Libertines – an inspired choice, given how their whole approach and outlook on life isn’t too far removed from our protagonists.
Littered with fantastic performances – and an unrecognisable Foster particularly impressing – the majority of the attention is aimed in Radcliffe’s direction, and he does nothing to disappoint. You can’t help but admire the actor for the way he is approaching his roles, following on from a successful stint on stage, he makes another brave choice. He suits the character perfectly too, doing a commendable job in portraying a renowned literary personality. He has a modesty that suits the outsider role he is playing – particularly in the early stages, and his changing of lifestyle is well judged. He claims it’s the role he is most proud of, and he has every cause to feel this way. Meanwhile, DeHaan is the real star of the show, with an alluring screen presence that is essential for his character to work.
Truly capturing that indestructible feeling you have at that age, where you think you can change the world – Kill Your Darlings is a true story well told, and given it’s based on such a fascinating set of events, it’s incredibly surprising that it’s not been told so substantially before.