Killing Your Darlings

© 2013 Ray Wong

A biopic of sort, Killing Your Darlings, focuses on a murder that draws together the great poets of the beat generation: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs.

Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) is a budding poet who is stuck with taking care of his mentally unstable mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh). His father (David Cross), however, encourages him to leave and leave he did — to Columbia University, where he meets fellow aspiring writer Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan). Allen is drawn to Lucien’s colorful, rebellious life that is so unlike his timid, restrictive upbringing. And through the wild Lucien, Allen hooks up with other budding writers such as Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster). Together they call themselves the New Vision.

Dissatisfied with the status quo and the privileges they enjoy, these four friends dream of breaking the rules and starting a revolution. Allen’s relationship with Lucien is particularly close, complicated by the fact that Allen is attracted to Lucien, while Lucien has an ambiguous friendship with David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), and older man who seems to appear everywhere Lucien is.

As Allen and Lucien become closer, Allen also becomes jealous of David, as well as confused by his own feelings. His pain and confusion leads to bouts of brilliant creativity that surprises not only himself, but Lucien as well, who has considered Allen “not quite a writer.”  As Lucien and David’s friendship becomes more violent, Allen stands by and watch Lucien distancing himself from their cause, their manifesto, and from Allen.

Life after Harry Potter has been pretty good for Daniel Radcliffe (The Woman in Black) who seems to have defied the “child actor” curse and gone on to do interesting projects. As Ginsberg, Radcliffe has to tackle a wide range of emotions and also the basic conceit that Ginsberg is a closeted gay man in love with his best friend. He’s done a great job with the role, giving us a sympathetic portrayal of a writer on the verge of awakening. Dane DeHaan (The Place Beyond the Pines) has emerged as one of the new brooding, young leading men (think a cross between a young Leonardo DiCaprio and River Phoenix). As the ambiguous, manipulative and temperamental Lucien, DeHaan almost steals the show from the more subdue, nuances of Radcliffe’s understated performance.

Michael C. Hall (Dexter) plays David Kammerer with an intense but also pretentious obsession that at once draws you in and repels you. There is no question that Kammerer is a stalker, but does he deserve how Lucien treats him? Hall gives us a solid performance that makes us question that. Jack Huston (Two Jacks) are charming and handsome as the iconic Jack Kerouac, but he lacks the required edge to pull it off. Ben Foster (Contraband) is fascinating as famed writer William Burroughs; his performance is one of the most memorable in the film.

Co-written by Austin Bunn and director John Krokidas (Sio-Mio), the screenplay is surprising relevant even though it’s a period piece set in 1944. The intellectual dialogue and subtexts could appear pretentious at times, just as the characters could, but both writers reign it in to gound it with the human drama and raw emotions. There is the quality of a play here, what with the play of words and ideas and concepts, as well as the interactions between the characters.

Yet Krokidas introduces interesting visual styles and elements to make this film a visually stimulating piece, instead of a static play about intellectuals saying intellectual things. His characters are first and foremost kids. They may have aspired to be something grand and big and important, but they are still boys. Krokidas’s visual style (and soundtrack) is contemporary and somewhat avant garde. At times his direction seems somewhat too experimental for the material, perhaps pushing the “art” in “art form” a bit too far, but one thing for sure, Kronkidas’ direction is never boring, despite the literary and artsy nature of the material.

As a writer, I thoroughly enjoyed the themes and the nature of this writerly film. As an average moviegoer, I find the plot perhaps somewhat too personal and intimate to have a mass appeal — it may not be a bad thing, after all. This may sound like a gay coming-of-age love story, but in truth Killing Your Darlings is a story about a group of revolutionary writers on the verge of becoming great. If you’re ever interested in the beats generation, go see it, Darling.

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, Ben Foster, David Cross, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Elizabeth Olsen
Director: John Krokidas
Writers: John Krokidas, Austin Bunn 
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, language, drug use and brief violence
Running Time: 104 minutes


Script - 7
Performance - 8
Direction - 8
Cinematography - 8
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 8
Production - 8

Total - 7.8 out of 10.0 

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