Writer and director John Krokidas, a fairly green director, brings the energy of the time period to life with sequences that border on fantasy and lure the viewer into the energized minds of its lead poets. The lyrical elements mostly pay off, as long as you can get into it and go with the style, making Kill Your Darlings stand out as a bold and unique period piece film.
The film focuses on Ginsberg’s time at Columbia as he tries to break away from his childhood, as well as his father (played by David Cross, Arrested Development) and mentally unwell mother. At school, Ginsberg, a timid young man growing into his homosexuality, meets a charismatic student, Lucien Carr. Nothing is off limits as the two men explore New York City and all the drugs, sex, and freedom it has to offer. Krokidas makes several strong connections between this period in Ginsberg’s life and his famous work “Howl.”
As the duo’s friendship blossoms, Ginsberg meets Lucien’s somewhat unusual friend, David Kammerer, play by Michael C. Hall (Dexter, Six Feet Under). In the film, Kammerer, an older man, is very close to Lucien, who uses Kammerer when he needs help, but seems to hold a love-hate relationship with him. As Lucien reveals more on his relationship with this older man, it appears Kammerer has followed him from city to city, and Lucien’s complicity in their relationship becomes more and more dubious.
The ensemble cast works wonderfully together with a small, but memorable, part by Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene). Dane DeHaan stands out as Lucien, as does Radcliffe as the impressionable and talented Ginsberg. In fact, Radcliffe easily sheds his more youthful, Harry Potter skin and conveys Ginsberg with multi-faceted emotion and honesty.
Kill Your Darlings infuses energy and horror into a lyrical and inspired-by-true-events story about bias, hate, betrayal, and poetry. It refuses to be black and white and, instead, wallows quite successfully in the emotional gray area that often produces great films. It could have been trimmed down a bit during certain sequences, but for its emotion, performances, and artistic choices, Kill Your Darlings tied with Ain’t Them Bodies Saints as my favorite Sundance 2013 film.
It’s set for a limited US theatrical release starting October 18th.
Three and a Half Non-Conformist Beatniks out of Five