Kill Your Darlings (2013) / Drama-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for sexual content, language, drug use, and brief violence
Running Time: 104 min.

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, Ben Foster, David Cross, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Elizabeth Olsen, Jon Cullum, Kyra Sedgwick
Small role: David Rasche
Director: John Krokidas
Screenplay: Austin Bunn, John Krokidas

Review published November 25, 2013

Set in 1944, Daniel Radcliffe (The Woman in Black, Deathly Hallows Pt. 2) stars as a young Allen Ginsberg, starting in his first year attending Columbia University in New York. He makes fast friends with the charismatic, rule-breaking sophomore Lucien Carr (DeHaan, Chronicle), who breaks Ginsberg out of his shell and into a world of unconventional writing, drugs, jazz, and sexual liberation. Through Carr, Ginsberg also meets ex-merchant marine and writer Jack Kerouac (Huston, Not Fade Away) and drug-tripper extraordinaire, William S. Burroughs (Foster, Ain't Them Bodies Saints), who show him that there's more to life than following the rules, and there's much more benefit to blazing your own path. Carr has problems of his own with his relationship with another man, mentor/suitor/stalker David Kammerer (Hall, Paycheck), and Ginsberg has a crush of his own on the promiscuous Carr. Eventually, things come to a head, and soon a murder develops that threatens to pull the threads of all of their friendships apart.

Kill Your Darlings may be of some interest to those who idolize the Beat writers featured within -- Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac -- but for casual viewers just looking for a good drama, a compelling story isn't delivered sufficiently to earn a recommendation. First-time feature film director John Krokidas does a nifty job visually, but still isn't able to translate his tight edits into a gripping motion picture experience. In place of an absorbing quasi-thriller or slice of life, we get a nostalgia-infused study of the interactions of several notable authors before they would become famous, and only those coming in with a knowledge of the subject matter and an insatiable curiosity might come out fully satisfied with the result.  Had it played as a dark, psychological, real-life thriller along the lines of, say, Notes on a Scandal, the ground would have been set for one of the more intriguing tales of the year, instead of one of the most frustrating.

Kill Your Darlings is a quality work from a traditional critical benchmark perspective, with good acting (though they barely resemble their real-life counterparts), lively direction, and all of the bells and whistles one might expect from a Beat writers retrospective. And yet, one can't help but be disappointed that all of the energy, excitement, and inventiveness of these authors and this period in American literary history doesn't come alive on the screen, and that's even with a Radcliffe/DeHaan sex scene thrown in. To be blunt, the main problem with the film is that it is, despite the sex and murder that permeate the heart of the story, quite boring, and languishes for one unfocused scene after another in a somber, downbeat fashion that doesn't pique one's interest into some of the intriguing developments.

If you're a Beat Generation enthusiast, you might find Kill Your Darlings a worthwhile way to kill some time with a familiar subject.  If you're not, this film will likely kill your desire for further examination.

Qwipster's rating:

2013 Vince Leo