According to director John Krokidas, his feature debut Kill Your Darlings took nearly 11 years to bring to screen. After premiering at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival Friday afternoon, the slow cook appears to have only strengthened the film. If Darlings was released a decade earlier, it wouldn’t have the impressive roster of Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Ben Foster, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, and Elizabeth Olsen to bring the vivid story of Allen Ginsberg and the beat poets to life. It’s hard to imagine any other ensemble pulling it off.
Even after a string of other performances (including the gothic Woman in Black), the question still lingers whether Radcliffe will evolve past his lightning-scarred former character into a viable leading man. Kill Your Darlings puts the speculation to rest. Embodying the unrestrained Ginsberg in his early years, Radcliffe bears witness to the energy, chaos, love, and harsh truths that flow through the streets of ’40s New York. When he’s accepted by Columbia University to study poetry, he’s exposed to the alternative underbelly of the city, courtesy of the smooth-talking devil on his shoulder, Lucien Carr (DeHaan). Through Carr, Ginsberg is introduced to a rebellious group of writers: the on-again-off-again lover David Kammerer (Hall), the drug connoisseur William Burroughs (Foster), and the star quarterback of the literary squad, Jack Kerouac (Huston). Together, they eventually form “The New Vision,” a poetic task force whose sole mission is to destroy lesser works of rigid indecency (that is to say, Ogden Nash is in their crosshairs).
Krokidas takes full advantage of his setting, draping Kill Your Darlings in bold colors and compositions. The director knows when his scenes require a bit of swing — as Ginsberg and Carr delve deeper into the world of anti-establishment poetry, Krokidas’ responds with stylish camera work and rhythmic editing. In a scene at the collective’s Christopher Street jazz club hangout, Krokidas allows imagination to take hold of his realistic biopic. The effects of nitrous oxide seep in, the surrounding clientele come to a halt, and Carr and Ginsberg float around the room manipulating the frozen scene. When Ginsberg wakes up from his trip, it all makes perfect sense.
But Krokidas also knows when to let the talent do the talking. Radcliffe is a performer who can stay silent, expose the mind of a thinker through the subtlest of reactions. One moment sees the actor wound up by recreational drug use, and Radcliffe rises to the occasion by stripping down, running around a room, and eventually settling at a typewriter to bang out his first poem. DeHaan is his foil, always ready to unleash bravado; his Carr enlivens the world around him, making it easy to see why Ginsberg would have been so taken by him. If Radcliffe’s performance puts skeptics to rest, DeHaan’s proves he’s at the top of Hollywood’s young actor’s pack. The duo’s romantic relationship creates conflict over the course of the entire movie, eventually swelling to a burst of passion. The authenticity of the moment may surprise even the biggest diehard Harry Potter fans.
Kill Your Darlings has a rare vision behind it, and it’s clear Radcliffe and DeHaan are in on the plan. The ups and downs never miss a beat, nor do they feel stricken to the form that Hollywood may normally take to bring a story of this nature to life. That feels like a cue from Ginsberg himself — as we see in the film, the poet’s early days were filled with school lessons he threw to the wind (and flipped the bird to, naturally). His independent spirit runs through the veins of Darlings, a great Sundance pick that will no doubt find a home before year’s end. And we’ll still be talking about it then.
[Photo Credit: Benaroya Pictures]
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