Kill Your Darlings review

If the Marvel cinematic universe was replaced with Beat Generation writers instead of spandex-clad superheroes, Kill Your Darlings would be the origin story to recent films such as Howl and On The Road.

Kill Your Darlings is the story of how a young Allen Ginsberg came to meet Jack Kerouac and William S Burroughs at Columbia University in the 1940s, and the murder of David Kammerer by group muse Lucien Carr that brought them all together and sparked them writing in the first place.

Radcliffe is our entry point into the film. As the young, fairly sheltered Ginsberg, he dives down the rabbit hole of life shown to him by Lucien, with whom he falls in love – Allen In Wonderland. Carr is an enigmatic, charming but manipulative student, played with a deft subtlety by everyone's “one-to-watch” DeHaan. These two well-judged performances keep the film ticking over, bouncing off each other in a style that owes a lot to films such as Dead Poets Society – young, middle-class bohemians discovering themselves through poetry, and all the self-revelations that entails, be they sexual awakenings, loss of innocence, or that first heartbreak, which all happen in the film.

Here's the problem though. This sort of tiple-distilled pretentiousness isn't always easy to stomach. It's testament to how strong the performances of the entire cast are (special mentions to Hall, Olsen and Foster) that the film still manages to bring real emotional connections to characters who speak in poetic soundbites that tend to “tell” rather than “show” their points. Underneath the bombastic poetry reciting, Lucien Carr still remains dark and unstable, with the spectre of David Kammerer, his one-time lover and long-time stalker played by Hall, always hanging over him. Similarly, Radcliffe keeps Ginsberg innocent, but clearly brilliant and adventurous, and that desire for exploration and innovation is what keeps the film engaging, for which credit must go to first-time director Krokidas.

A lot of this film rides on how much you're willing to indulge the passions of young men, alive with the fire of life, ready to rip out the rule book in the name of true passion and excitement – and the genuine vibrancy and honesty of great performances by Radcliffe and DeHaan manage to convey that, and the complexity that arises from that. While it's by no means perfect, it's an engaging watch, and a respectful gift to all Beat Generation lovers, such as myself.

Kill Your Darlings at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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