John Krokidas’s Kill Your Darlings is “about the ill-fated love triangle between the young Allen Ginsberg, his libertine fellow Columbia student Lucian Carr, and the obsessive David Kammerer, whom Carr stabbed in Riverside Park, bound, and dumped into the Hudson River on an August night in 1944,” explains the Voice‘s Scott Foundas. “Ginsberg is well played—to the evident surprise of some critics—by erstwhile Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, sporting the requisite ‘Jew fro’ (a point of discussion at the post-screening Q&A) and the hesitant but hungry demeanor of a brilliant poet about to bloom. But it’s the always inventive Ben Foster, lurking on the edges of the movie as the young William Burroughs, who handily steals the show. One of two Beat-era nostalgia trips premiering at Sundance (the second, Michael Polish’s Jack Kerouac-centric Big Sur, screens later in the week), is an unquestionable improvement over last year’s paint-by-numbers On the Road, but it still falls victim to the kind of idol worship that has made most movies about the Beats hard to take.”
“The events depicted were well documented in news coverage at the time,” writes Variety‘s Justin Chang, “and if scribes Krokidas and Austin Bunn have taken creative liberties with the historical record, they more or less get away with it by presenting their version of events as one of Ginsberg’s semi-autobiographical manuscripts. ‘It’s your truth, your fiction!’ Lucien snarls at Allen, inadvertently putting his finger on the central limitation of Kill Your Darlings, which is that it tells the story of one personality exclusively from the perspective of another. The viewer is granted access only to Allen’s impressions, assumptions, recollections and outright inventions, which don’t add up to a fully satisfying or convincing picture of what drove his friend and obscure object of desire to such monstrous ends.”
“The narrative generally is more fragmented than linear,” adds David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter, “sometimes at the expense of cohesion. But as Allen increasingly feels excluded from Lucien’s closeness with Jack, and Lucien tries to extricate himself from David’s influence, the emotional stakes are heightened and the drama gains traction.”
“Ginsberg, Burroughs and the belligerent Jack Kerouac (Jack Houston) were all implicated in the improbable crime,” notes David D’Arcy in Screen. “Carr testified that Kammerer was a predatory homosexual, and that the ‘honor slaying’ was in self-defense. He served less than two years in prison. That legal drama begs for more time in the film.” After all, this is “the first cinematic telling of the Lucien Carr story, already told in an early novel by Burroughs and Kerouac, suppressed by Carr during his lifetime. Just as central is Ginsberg’s coming of age. In a setting where youthful silliness meets ambition, Radcliffe gets the accent down, but he’s fine-featured compared to the fleshier Ginsberg, never reaching the point where it’s Ginsberg rather than Radcliffe that the audience is watching.”
“While not physically believable as a young Ginsberg, the former Harry Potter gives his most daring performance to date,” writes Zeba Blay at the House Next Door, “particularly in an explicit sex scene in which Ginsberg finally comes to terms with his sexuality.”
“Radcliffe is so game,” adds Jada Yuan at Vulture, “so clearly hungering to lay it all out on the screen, that one can imagine him stripping naked for his big gay sex scene before he was even asked. Professor McGonagall, cover your eyes.”
“The cast has turned over during the years Krokidas worked on it, but luck and fate have worked in the filmmaker’s favor,” finds Entertainment Weekly‘s Lisa Schwarzbaum. “In addition to Radcliffe (who first expressed interest in 2008), Dane DeHaan is hot and dangerous as Carr, Ben Foster burrows into Burroughs, Jack Huston seduces as Jack Kerouac, and Michael C. Hall is just the right combo of desperate/creepy/lovelorn as Kammerer.”
“Inevitably for a Beat story,” writes Damon Wise for the Guardian, “the women don’t have too much to do, but Krokidas rather beautifully undermines the overly male nature of this world by firmly setting the high-faluting ideals of the tough-talking but, let’s face it, largely draft-dodging Beats against the brutal context of the second world war. He also resists the temptation to divide the group’s protean sexuality into gay and straight, instead portraying events as a kind of underground Big Bang that sent Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs off to their respective parts of the literary universe.”
But at the Playlist, Rodrigo Perez finds that “Kill Your Darlings doesn’t really humanize these characters beyond half-drawn caricatures in an origin tale that wouldn’t be out of place in an average super hero film.” Time Out New York‘s David Fear adds that Krokidas has “decided to turn the whole sordid affair (Murder! Drugs! Poetry!) into the literary equivalent of a Muppet-Babies escapade.” But for Film.com‘s Jordan Hoffman, this “might be the best Beat film since David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch.”
Updates, 1/26: For Kim Voynar at Movie City News, this is “a terrific exploration of the young Beats in their earliest gestation, a lovingly rendered, well-executed ride that immerses the audience in that rare time and place when young people like Ginsberg and his compatriots truly felt they could change the world, when the casting aside of tradition and the challenging of social norms felt relevant, real, and genuinely world changing.”
Emma Jones in the Independent: “America’s most awarded 20th century poet has been portrayed before—most notably, recently, by James Franco in Howl—but Radcliffe provides a defining performance.”
Kyle Buchanan talks with Radcliffe for Vulture.
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