After securing a spot at Columbia University in New York City in the 1940s, Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), wide-eyed and inexperienced freshman, soon becomes swept up in the chaotic lives of anti-establishmentarian’s Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), and William Burroughs (Ben Foster). Together, the four attempt to challenge and redefine writing and literature in what was known later in the 1950s as the Beat Generation.
Kill Your Darlings is an engrossing film that offers an interesting look into the early lives of the founding members of the Beat Generation. Director John Krokidas demonstrates a strong and focused directorial vision with a keen eye for attention to detail, producing an impressive feature-film directorial debut. Kill Your Darlings is a vibrant exploration of the Beat Generation, with a dark grittiness that sets the 1940s atmosphere perfectly. The almost noir-esque mood to the film is lovely, particularly seen during the montage of Ginsberg and Burroughs’ drug-filled haze in the underground network of smoky jazz bars; it transports the audience into an exciting world from a past era, full of grit, and grunge, and eclectic life.
Daniel Radcliffe gives a strong performance as Ginsberg, proving he’s well and truly graduated from the Harry Potter series and is worthy of more serious roles as an actor. Generally, his performance in Kill Your Darlings is one of his best so far; Radcliffe appears to slot quite comfortably into this era, showcasing a depth and range in his acting abilities that otherwise got lost in the spectacle that was his “training” on the Harry Potter set.
Dane DeHaan also deserves a considerable mention for his wonderful performance as the manipulative and emotionally vulnerable Lucien Carr. Surprisingly, Kill Your Darlings is DeHaan’s breakthrough performance, making the conviction he brings to the role of Lucien that much more impressive. The chemistry between Radcliffe and DeHaan is particularly interesting to watch; it feels palpable and beats in the spaces between the two from the very moment they first share onscreen, producing some excellent moments of tension throughout the film. We feel empathy towards Ginsberg, understanding the ardent desire he feels for Lucien, though at the same time realising that such strong chemistry mixed with such fundamentally different people can only be volatile. It’s a train wreck of infinitely interesting proportions just waiting to happen. Jack Huston and Ben Foster should also be given credit for their supporting roles as Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, respectively. As an ensemble, the four actors have created a strong sense of familiarity and friendship from which the founding writers of the Beat Generation come to life.
Kill Your Darlings is an adventurous film that encapsulates the improvised, jazz-like style of Beat life perfectly within the film’s composition and editing. While the third quarter of the film does tend to drag at times, for the most part Kill Your Darlings is a thoroughly enjoyable and dynamic take on the beginnings of one of the most influential and radical literary movements in recent history.