Allen Ginsberg wore glasses. So it makes sense that John Krokidas, in his directorial debut Kill Your Darlings, would have his lead, Daniel Radcliffe, don a pair.
The glasses become a bit of a problem when you consider the fact that Radcliffe shot to worldwide fame playing a beloved literary character, one whose glasses were his trademark, for 10 years.
The film begins dramatically, with a Tarantino-esque title sequence filling the screen. And then, a shot of Ginsberg (Radcliffe)—looking exactly like Harry Potter and not in the least like a future poetic revolutionary. The it-happened-for-real story (co-written by Krokidas and Austin Bunn, also green) doesn’t center on Ginsberg but is told from his point of view, when he escapes New Jersey and his mentally ill mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to attend Columbia. During a tour of the school, Ginsberg (HarryPotterHarryPotterHarryPotter) is instantly smitten with Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a louche, heavy-lidded upperclassman who does the “O Captain My Captain” thing to oh-so-naughtily steal the attention of the stunned group. Ginsberg’s the only one who smiles. It’s lust at first sight.
Kill Your Darlings, its title taken from a lecture by a strictly traditional poetry professor, shows the growing friendship between future literary giants Ginsberg, Carr, Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), and William Burroughs (Ben Foster, shrunken, mumbling, and ultimately wasted). They take drugs, go to smoky clubs, and talk about grabbing the world by its balls via language: “The fascists are here!” Carr says, talking about the blindly accepted meter and rhyme in poetry. Also an influence on the group is David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), a Svengali type who’s obsessed with Carr. Murder is afoot.
DeHaan, last seen in Chronicle, leans a bit too heavily on the sultry, too-cool-for-school demeanor here, though his performance is the most compelling by far, at least presenting a character whose magnetism is believable. Huston’s Kerouac, like Foster’s Burroughs, barely registers as someone of future prominence. But casting Radcliffe is the biggest misstep. It takes more than furious typing and convulsing to some hot jazz to convey a counterculturalist, yet this is the most action that Krokidas allows Pott…Ginsberg. For the rest of the time, the poet is a mere observer and occasional advice-giver who could hardly be more passive. These are supposed to be the Beats, but the film is missing a pulse. —Tricia Olszewski