About twenty minutes into Kill Your Darlings I knew I was in trouble. I was already having a hard time getting into it and still had well over an hour to go. It didn't help that this featured some of the founding members of the Beat Generation, which I've never really cared much about. Well, if you're not a fan of the Beat Generation, why in the hell did you see this, you ask? I honestly didn't know that's was Kill Your Darlings was about. I mainly saw this because it stars Dane DeHaan, one of my favorite young actors, and Daniel Radcliffe, whose career choices I'm following very closely post-Potter.
Believe it or not, I try to go into most movies knowing as little as possible about them. I avoid trailers as much as I can, and stay off the web to avoid spoilers. Many times I'm not even aware of who wrote or directed the film until the credits roll. If it's based on a book, I won't touch it until after I see the movie. I do this mainly to avoid going in with certain expectations, especially when I know it's from a writer or a director I may or may not like. I know sometimes that's unavoidable with the bigger releases, or when the commercials or posters say, "Brought to you by the director of this and that." Generally speaking, I try to go in as 'clean' as I can, and many times I usually don't know much more than the lead actors.
Kill Your Darlings follows the story involving the murder of David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), and the early days of the Beat Generation. As the movie begins with the murder and the accused, Lucien Carr (DeHaan) already in jail, there's little suspense at all to the remainder of the story. We mainly watch Carr, Allen Ginsberg (Radcliffe), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster) drink, do drugs, listen to music, and cause mischief. I don't find it all that interesting to watch people do drugs, especially when I have no experience with their drug of choice. I have no problem with alcohol and marijuana, but I have no knowledge at all of benzedrine. Watching people listen to music is also pretty uninteresting to me, too. Would like to see a Youtube video of me sitting in a bar watching a band you've never heard of that doesn't focus on the band or music? Pretty fascinating, right? Kill Your Darlings features much of the same general hedonism that I disliked about On The Road, only with less misogyny. I guess if you think about it, this is sort of a prequel to On The Road. The credits even specifically mention how Kerouac went on to write On The Road after this. Okay...
After the opening sequence, we go back to just before Allen Ginsberg's heads off to Columbia University. I was excited when I saw David Cross playing Ginsberg's father. I thought maybe he'd lend some humor to the movie, but unfortunately this did not happen. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Ginsburg's mother, who is dealing with mental illness, but I found this subplot to be largely pointless as they didn't have any impact on the main story. Maybe if Ginsberg had suffered from mental illness himself, it might have made more sense to include this, but it came across as unnecessary backstory. After arriving at Columbia, Ginsberg meets Carr who introduces him to various members of the Beat Generation. He begins to experiment with drugs and his own sexuality.
Another issue I had with the film was that I'm never made to feel why these people were important literary influences. I didn't finish Kill Your Darlings wanting to know more about these guys. The film features lots of scenes of Ginsberg writing and reading poetry, but the moments that worked best were the character moments, especially Carr's interactions with various members of the group. They are inspired to create a "New Vision", and while there are several moments where you see them throwing out ideas, tearing up books, and working it out, what was the end result? It wasn't clear to me.
As John Krokidas' feature directing debut goes, it's a decent effort. I thought the pace dragged a little too much, and there were certain elements and characters that didn't add much to the story or were wasted entirely. Part of the drag stems from how I mentioned that we begin with the ultimate climax of the film. Lots of times this can work, but here it just made me antsy knowing I was going to sit through 100 minutes to get to a climax I already knew was coming. Since this is a little-known story, spoiling how it turns out in the first five minutes was a mistake. There's very little about the aftermath of this event, and it's all the lead up to it.
It's very well acted though. Dane DeHaan was extremely charismatic as Lucien Carr, and it's one of those performances where he makes it easy to understand why people were drawn to him. He plays off everyone well and it was interesting to see how manipulative he could be. DeHaan's chemistry with Radcliffe is one of the strongest points of the film. As for Radcliffe, if he wanted to distance himself from Harry Potter or make people start to forget about that part of his career, then he certainly accomplished that with a daring and earnest performance. I think he even went "full gay." It's bodes well for his future that he's willing to take risks like this, and it reminds me of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's earlier performance in Mysterious Skin. Outside of wasting Cross, Leigh, and especially Elizabeth Olsen (an extreme waste), I found most of the performances to be good.
Kill Your Darlings is a stylish and well-acted story, but unfortunately meanders and suffers from lack of focus. I didn't hate the film, it simply didn't work for me. If you're someone who's a fan of the Beat Generation, or are interested in Daniel Radcliffe's career post-Potter, then you may get some value from watching it. It's a rental at best.
2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars