Combustible Celluloid
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With: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, Ben Foster, David Cross, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Elizabeth Olsen, John Cullum
Written by: John Krokidas, Austin Bunn
Directed by: John Krokidas
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, language, drug use and brief violence
Running Time: 104
Date: 10/18/2013

Kill Your Darlings (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)

The Best Minds of My Generation

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Beat poets have inspired writers and filmmakers for many decades now, resulting in innumerable documentaries and movies, ranging from the amazing Naked Lunch to the terrible On the Road. The new Kill Your Darlings falls somewhere in the middle, which is good for a movie, if not necessarily good for a work of beat poetry.

This one, happily, focuses on one incident, rather than an entire history. The main character is Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), fresh-faced and new at Columbia University. He reluctantly leaves behind his slightly crazy mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who believes that there are wires in the walls and that her conversations are being spied upon. His poet father (David Cross) is only too happy to check her into a home. (Incidentally, trivia hounds will be interested to know that Cross also played Ginsberg in a small role in I'm Not There.)

At Columbia, the impressionable Allen meets the charismatic Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) and is swept away. There's an undeniable charge between them, and Lucien is very much a muse that inspires Allen to think creatively and write passionately. Unfortunately, Lucien is already involved with an older, gay, former professor, David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall). David writes Lucien's school papers and demands Lucien's attention in return.

Before long, Allen and Lucien join forces with the handsome, athletic Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and the dapper, pessimistic William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster), and form a movement devoted to destroying the old and creating the new. Tension between Allen, Lucien, and David continues to escalate, as Lucien tries to pull away from David and Allen tries to get closer to Lucien.

It's well-known that Ginsberg was gay, and it's clear that Kammerer is, too, but the movie keeps Lucien's sexuality a mystery (at least until the "what happened later" crawl at the end). He seems to revel in being wanted, but is unwilling to become a permanent installation anywhere.

I hope I won't give away too much by saying that there's a murder, and I think we can guess who isn't murdered, given which of these characters went on to publish great books and poems. Director and co-writer John Krokidas -- who makes his feature debut here -- doesn't put too much stock in keeping this a secret, as he starts his movie with the old reliable flash-forward to the "exciting event" so that his movie starts off with a bang.

Krokidas plays with other little gimmicks such as weird little "rewind" moments when Allen writes, remembering the events that happened to him in reverse. But he also falls back on traditional "montage" sequences, which may have felt pretty cool in the 1950s, but are old hat now.

The movie is at its best when dealing with the core trio of relationships. As much fun as Kerouac and Burroughs are, they're not important here. Radcliffe and DeHaan are terrific and share a wonderful chemistry, even as they simply size each other up. In one striking moment, a young female library worker performs oral sex on the gay Allen, and he only gets excited when he catches Lucien's gaze across a shelf of books. Hall has the much more difficult, unsympathetic role, and a role that perhaps the young actors and filmmakers couldn't possibly understand. Hall does his best to show that deadly interlocking of love and pain, at least, and he secures the triangle.

These strong characters, and the performances that drive them, make Kill Your Darlings work. Better still, it seems to get that mysterious concept of the "muse," and what makes men want to write. When the movie is over, it's hard not to want to pick up those old volumes one more time for another look.

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