A small, absorbing portrait, Kill Your Darlings details the origins of the Beat Generation, an anarchic group of American writers and thinkers with a contempt for mid-twentieth century moral and literary standards, whose writings continue to inspire leagues of young, restless people.
Focusing on a young Allen Ginsberg (who would later rise to international fame with the daring content of his poem Howl and the landmark obscenity trial that resulted), co-writer and director John Krokidas tracks his evolution from tentative Columbia freshman to fiercely anti-authoritarian poet, stimulated by a formidable group of friends including Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, and events involving sex, drugs, and even murder.
Krokidas cleverly evokes 1940s New York on a modest budget, favouring cramped apartments and stuffy college libraries over sweeping shots of the city, and as a result manages to create an intimate and inviting but not cloyingly nostalgic past.
Ginsberg is ably played by Daniel Radcliffe, the former Harry Potter star, and the rest of the cast is consistently strong, from Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr, Ginsberg’s inspiration and ringleader of the emerging group, to Ben Foster as Burroughs and Jack Huston as Kerouac. Kill Your Darlings displays Radcliffe’s continuing growth as an actor, as well as an increasing intelligence in his choice of film projects.
Kill Your Darlings is perhaps the most successful Beat Generation film to date, in part because Krokidas has focused the plot on a specific and dramatic course of events. Where Walter Salles struggled and missed the mark with his recent adaptation of Kerouac’s legendary On the Road, filtering a wild and beautifully sprawling mess of a novel into a rather straightforward road movie, here Krokidas manages a far more successful balance of coherence and anarchic kick, never feeling entirely conventional nor impossibly experimental, whilst maintaining a highly satisfying narrative drive. The energy feels more authentic than in Salles’ film, with the actors less impersonating than inhabiting these famous figures.
Like the best of the Beat writing, Kill Your Darlings is brimming with the idea that life is out there, ready to be lived, waiting for those with the desire for experience. But the film also succeeds as pure entertainment, working around a tight narrative that builds confidently towards an effective conclusion, whilst still managing to convey some of the infectious energy and spirit of the Beat movement.
Kill Your Darlings (2013), directed by John Krokidas, is released in UK cinemas by The Works and Universal Pictures on 6 December, Certificate 15.