Kill Your Darlings (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★
Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), future pioneer for what is now known as the Beat Generation, gets an acceptance letter from Columbia University and is ecstatic because it means he is one step closer toward becoming a writer. But actually being on campus and attending classes, he quickly discovers he doesn’t quite belong. This changes when he meets Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a writer who engages and challenges Allen, commanding such a live wire and charismatic personality that sometimes the two end up being in trouble with the authorities. Meanwhile, a man named David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), Lucien’s older male lover, becomes increasingly jealous.
“Kill Your Darlings” is not a straightforward picture. At times it works because we get the impression that we are simply dropping into a specific period of time where future literary icons converge. And yet at times the approach is ineffective because certain subplots that deserve to be explored in order to truly highlight trends and themes are pushed to the side. Despite its limitations, the film demands a recommendation for its good performances.
The relationship between Ginsberg and Carr lies in the center and so Radcliffe and DeHaan must take control of every scene when it is only the two of them interacting. The actors do so beautifully, consistently letting go of what is safe or predictable. Since they often make fresh choices on how to express specific emotions, a level of danger and mystique inspires us to keep watching and ask questions in terms of where the friendship is heading—a romantic route, one that is solely platonic, or something more destructive. Sometimes it appears to be embody all three and that is exciting.
I enjoyed it on another level because I had a chance to measure who is the better actor. In a lot of movies, I can watch a scene and about ten seconds in, I can point at the person who is delivering stronger work. Here, it is a bit of a challenge. I had the pleasure to observe and really think about why the actor decided to choose a certain avenue over another. Sometimes it is about a partnership, too. One might think Radcliffe is the stronger performer and another might say DeHaan is the standout. But one thing is certain: Radcliffe and DeHaan not only have natural chemistry together but they continually work on it.
The best scenes involve Ginsberg and Carr knowing exactly what the other is trying to say without being direct about what they really want or feel. In my eyes, Radcliffe is a level above DeHaan in terms of performance because I felt he is less self-conscious or more relaxed in terms of line delivery, where to put his body, when to turn on the intensity in the eyes, when to remain still—and how to remain still—in order to hold a shot. Clearly, he knows exactly what he is doing. Prior to this picture, I was already convinced Radcliffe is a good actor. But I must say that his work here made me look forward to how else he can improve over the rest of his career.
Subplots that fail to reach completion include: Ginsberg’s mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) being hospitalized and how that has changed or impacted Ginsberg’s experiences in Columbia as well as its role in Ginsberg’s evolution as a writer; a lack of a solid background about Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster)—I was not convinced that someone who had not heard of their names would have any idea why they were important or how good of a writer they were; and a dearth of elementary information with respect to the relationship between Carr and Kammerer. The third is most problematic because the final third of the film attempts to deal with complexity and yet there are no tracks available for us to follow.
Due to its lack of depth, there are sections in “Kill Your Darlings,” written by Austin Bunn and John Krokidas, directed by the latter, where discerning viewers are bound to think that it might have been a better movie if it had been three hours long. In a way, it is most fortunate because the casting directors chose smart in selecting its lead actors.