Movie review: 'Kill Your Darlings'

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald
Dane DeHaan plays Lucien Carr, and Daniel Radcliffe plays Allen Ginsberg in "Kill Your Darlings."

The title refers to some literary advice doled out in the film by a college professor who suggests to his students that they shouldn’t be afraid of editing their own writing. But this based-on-fact look at some of the folks who eventually became known as the Beats – Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, among them – here seen during their time as students at Columbia in the 1940s, also involves a murder.

The victim is shown in the opening frames as the crime is being committed, after which the film flashes back to the situations leading up to the event. It’s a story that’s been pretty successfully covered up for the past half century by the perpetrator, who went on to a successful career as a news syndicate editor. But with all the principal players now gone, it was time to have it told.

First-time feature director John Krokidas made all sorts of wise choices in his casting, especially in the film’s two leads: Daniel Radcliffe, rid at last of his Harry Potterness, as wide-eyed and innocent freshman Allen Ginsberg, and Dane DeHaan (“Chronicle,” “The Place Beyond the Pines”) as the more worldly and definitely controlling fellow student Lucien Carr.

The film gives us a peek at Ginsberg’s less-than-idyllic family life – his poet father Louis (David Cross) was a caring man but frustrated over the emotional frailty of his wife, Naomi (an unrecognizable Jennifer Jason Leigh). Ginsberg was what would have been called in those days a nice young man. But Carr is portrayed as an enigma, a powerfully persuasive fellow who liked to make a scene, then stand his ground. Carr and Ginsberg were opposites that attracted, but only as friends and co-conspirators, with Kerouac (Jack Huston) and Burroughs (Ben Foster), all of whom plotted to turn the literary establishment upside down by infusing it with new, radical ideas.

On the periphery of all of this was outsider David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), an older man who made his way to Columbia on the trail of Carr, upon whom he had a crush.

While the film remains solidly focused on the quickly developing maturity of Ginsberg as he follows, sometimes blindly, the larger-than-life path set by Carr, the other characters continually pop in and out of the background, almost always bolstering that main story.

With Ginsberg and Carr, who would go on to enjoy a long career at United Press, right up front the whole time, ample opportunity is given to Radcliffe and DeHaan to really explore them, and both young actors are everything their director as well as audiences could hope for. Radcliffe shows off his ability to pull off a character arc that moves from being meek and timid to taking charge of his life and of the risks that go along with that decision. DeHaan, who grows more confident with each role (he’ll soon be seen as Harry Osborn in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”), gives us a Lucien Carr who is a force to be reckoned with, a take-no-prisoners character who lets a few weaknesses slip through only when he’s not paying attention to his own actions.

Director Krokidas and his co-writer Austin Bunn maintain a couple of atmospheres at the same time – one revolving around the excitement of youth and discovery that’s found right after a young  person leaves home, and one that approaches luridness, when dealing with the fairly pathological dealings of Kammerer and Carr.

The best part of all of this is that we get to see what was going on in the lives of many of these iconic people before they were who they became. The film ends up being thrilling and creepy and insightful. It will likely get viewers to forget about Harry Potter and to check out the life of Lucien Carr.

Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.


Written by Austin Bunn and John Krokidas; directed by John Krokidas

With Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, Ben Foster, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Rated R