×

Kill Your Darlings

John Krokidas' first feature feels adventurous yet somewhat hemmed-in as it imagines a vortex of jealousy, obsession and murder that engulfed Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac in the early days of their literary revolution.

With:
Allen Ginsberg - Daniel Radcliffe
Louis Ginsberg - David Cross
Lucien Carr - Dane DeHaan
William Burroughs - Ben Foster
David Kammerer - Michael C. Hall
Jack Kerouac - Jack Huston
Naomi Ginsberg - Jennifer Jason Leigh
Edie Parker - Elizabeth Olsen

A mysterious Beat Generation footnote is fleshed out with skilled performances, darkly poetic visuals and a vivid rendering of 1940s academia in “Kill Your Darlings.” Directed with an assured sense of style that pushes against the narrow confines of its admittedly fascinating story, John Krokidas’ first feature feels adventurous yet somewhat hemmed-in as it imagines a vortex of jealousy, obsession and murder that engulfed Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac in the early days of their literary revolution. The picture’s pansexual content and intellectual focus will limit its specialty-market reach, but it should court a small, discerning audience.

Following 2010’s “Howl,” last year’s long-gestating “On the Road” and concurrent Sundance selection “Big Sur,” “Kill Your Darlings” continues a general resurgence of indie-filmmaker interest in the Beat writers, subjecting a trio of literary titans to inevitably reductive but generally well-achieved biopic treatment. In a performance outre enough to banish any semblance of Harry Potter from the screen, Daniel Radcliffe brings a solid physical likeness and a naturally sympathetic bearing to the role of the young Allen Ginsberg, portrayed here in his formative years as a sensitive and promising poet embarking on his freshman year at Columbia in 1944.

Popular on Variety

In short order, Allen is drawn into the inner circle of Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a devilish charmer and born troublemaker introduced wreaking havoc in Columbia’s hallowed halls by loudly reciting an obscene poem. Scorning the classical literary models upheld by their English professors, Lucien awakens a similarly rebellious spirit in the kid he affectionately dubs “Ginsy,” and soon, along with the promising voices of William Burroughs (a dryly restrained Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston, energetic), they become determined to found a radical literary movement known as “the New Vision.”

Notably, Lucien possesses little writing ability of his own, and his influence on the talented young men around him is at once inspiring and more than a little parasitic; this becomes increasingly evident as Allen develops a strong attraction to Lucien, who continually encourages and thwarts his friend’s affections. But Allen has a formidable rival in David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), a mysterious, much older man who exerts a powerfully obsessive hold over Lucien, although the origins of their troubled history are deliberately left vague.

A jazzy, jittery montage shows Allen hard at work and hard at play inhaling nitrous oxide with his pals one minute, engaging in a bit of typewriter-pounding self-gratification the next. Playing like scenes from an unusually saucy remake of “Dead Poets Society,” the sequence represents an admirable attempt to capture the creative process of writing in cinematic terms, but like much of the film, it glosses over events in stylish, engrossing but ultimately too economical fashion. This extends even to the strange, violent episode that brought an end to the Carr-Kammerer relationship, dramatized here in a fleet, emotionally heightened manner that, due to an excess of foreshadowing and a dearth of buildup, doesn’t achieve the desired impact.

The events depicted were well documented in news coverage at the time, and if scribes Krokidas and Austin Bunn have taken creative liberties with the historical record, they more or less get away with it by presenting their version of events as one of Ginsberg’s semi-autobiographical manuscripts. “It’s your truth, your fiction!” Lucien snarls at Allen, inadvertently putting his finger on the central limitation of “Kill Your Darlings,” which is that it tells the story of one personality exclusively from the perspective of another. The viewer is granted access only to Allen’s impressions, assumptions, recollections and outright inventions, which don’t add up to a fully satisfying or convincing picture of what drove his friend and obscure object of desire to such monstrous ends.

Still, even if it doesn’t fully connect the dramatic dots, the film is impressively realized on a scene-by-scene basis. Scholarly inclined viewers may well quibble with the authenticity of the central performances, but there isn’t a single one that feels less than fully engaged. British thesp Radcliffe is every inch the bespectacled American nebbish one associates with Ginsberg, and DeHaan, so frighteningly charismatic in last year’s “Chronicle,” makes Lucien a simultaneously alluring and troubling figure. In a brief but moving subplot, David Cross and Jennifer Jason Leigh bring a welcome sensitivity to their respective roles as Ginsberg’s poet father and mentally troubled mother; Elizabeth Olsen has less to do as Kerouac’s neglected g.f.

The dusty greens, yellows and nicotine browns in Reed Morano’s widescreen photography seem to have been inspired by the look of faded books and newspapers, ably complementing the muted tones of production designer Stephen Carter’s glumly lit interiors and the characters’ tweedy suits, courtesy of costume designer Christopher Peterson. Brian Kates’ fluid editing occasionally employs quick ellipses and flashbacks to situate the viewer within Allen’s memory and mental processes, effectively suggesting the white-hot current of creative energy that brought these men of letters together.

Kill Your Darlings

Production: A Benaroya Pictures presentation of a Killer Films production in association with Sunny-Field Entertainment. (International sales: IAV Intl., Los Angeles.) Produced by Christine Vachon, Michael Benaroya, Rose Ganguzza, John Krokidas. Executive producers, Joe Jenckes, Stefan Sonnenfeld, Jared Ian Goldman, Pamela Koffler, Randy Manis. Directed by John Krokidas. Screenplay, Krokidas, Austin Bunn; story, Bunn.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Reed Morano; editor, Brian Kates; music, Nico Muhly; production designer, Stephen Carter; art director, Alexios Chrysikos; set decorator, Sarah E. McMillan; costume designer, Christopher Peterson; sound (Dolby Digital), Ken Ishii; supervising sound editor/sound designer, Warren Shaw; re-recording mixers, Lee Dichter, Shaw, Tony Volante; visual effects supervisor, Jim Rider; visual effects producers, Leah Garner, Cara Farnsworth, Alicia Cargile; visual effects, Method Studios, Company 3; stunt coordinator, Chris Barnes; associate producers, David Hinojosa, Matthew Vose Campbell; casting, Laura Rosenthal. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 18, 2013. Running time: 102 MIN.

With: Allen Ginsberg - Daniel Radcliffe
Louis Ginsberg - David Cross
Lucien Carr - Dane DeHaan
William Burroughs - Ben Foster
David Kammerer - Michael C. Hall
Jack Kerouac - Jack Huston
Naomi Ginsberg - Jennifer Jason Leigh
Edie Parker - Elizabeth OlsenWith: John Cullum, David Rasche.

More Film

  • Civil Rights Drama 'Praying for Sheetrock'

    Civil Rights Drama 'Praying for Sheetrock' in the Works as Feature Film (EXCLUSIVE)

    Enderby Entertainment is developing a feature film based on Melissa Fay Greene’s civil rights drama “Praying for Sheetrock,” Variety has learned exclusively. The non-fiction book, published in 1991, was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, Georgia Historical Society Bell Award and the ACLU National Civil [...]

  • Jared Harris arrives at the 26th

    No, Jared Harris is Not Playing Doctor Octopus in Marvel's 'Morbius'

    The first-ever trailer for Marvel and Sony’s next Spider-man spinoff “Morbius” left comic book fans reeling with theories. While the plight of the main character, Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) – a scientist dying of a rare blood disease who accidentally turns himself into a vampire – seemed ripped right out of the comics, the [...]

  • SAG Awards 2020: What You Didn't

    SAG Awards 2020: From Charlize Theron to 'Parasite,' What You Didn't See on TV

    Brad Pitt made a crack about his marriages. Robert De Niro got political. And Jennifer Aniston talked about appearing in a commercial for Bob’s Big Boy. Those were just some of thing that happened on stage at the SAG Awards that were broadcast on TNT/TBS on Sunday night. However, Variety was inside the Shrine Auditorium [...]

  • Will Smith and Martin Lawrence star

    'Bad Boys for Life' Triumphs on MLK Weekend With $73 Million Launch

    “Bad Boys for Life” has given a jolt to the North American box office, blasting past forecasts with a $73.4 million opening at 3,775 sites over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. The third iteration of the Will Smith-Martin Lawrence action comedy franchise will finish the Friday-Monday as Sony Pictures’ biggest R-rated opening ever [...]

  • Laurene Powell Jobs

    Laurene Powell Jobs Invests in Davis Guggenheim's Concordia Studio

    Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim and Jonathan King are launching Concordia Studio in partnership with Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective. Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, founded social change organization Emerson Collective in 2004. Emerson Collective became the majority owner of the Atlantic in 2017 and made an investment in 2018 in Reese [...]

  • Jumbo

    Noémie Merlant on Sundance Player 'Jumbo,' Feature Directorial Debut 'Mi Lubita'

    French actor Noémie Merlant plays a young woman who falls in love with a funfair ride in Zoé Wittock’s “Jumbo,” which is screening in Sundance’s World Cinema Dramatic Competition. Variety spoke to her about the film, and her debut feature as director “Mi Lubita.” Merlant is viewed as one of the most promising actors of [...]

  • Under the Stars of Paris

    Claus Drexel on 'Under the Stars of Paris,' and Prostitution Documentary 'The Amazons'

    One of the widest-selling titles at the UniFrance Rendez-Vous, a showcase of French cinema that wraps Monday, is Claus Drexel’s “Under the Stars of Paris.” The French-German speaks to Variety about the pic and his upcoming prostitution documentary “The Amazons.” “Under the Stars of Paris” centers on a homeless woman – played by Catherine Frot [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content