Share This Page

'Darlings' keeps alive page of Beat history

| Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, 5:55 p.m.
Sony Pictures Classics
Daniel Radcliffe in 'Kill Your Darlings'

And you thought the Beat Generation was self-aware.

Wait till you see “Kill Your Darlings,” John Krokidas' film about the birth of the Beats, chronicling how Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Lucien Carr met in New York in the 1940s, got hopped up on reefer, speed and jazz and tried to tear the literary establishment apart at the seams. It's also framed by a real-life murder story that mostly distracts; what we want to see are these men throwing off what they considered the shackles of convention.

Yet, the cast, led by Daniel Radcliffe as Ginsberg and Dane DeHaan, is compelling enough to get past some of Krokidas' overtly self-conscious style. Literary types often fall prey to pretension. So do people making movies about literary types. “Kill Your Darlings” occupies some in-between place, with young, intelligent actors working hard at being gritty as their director makes sure we see every ounce of effort.

Ginsberg, as a freshman at Columbia University, is able to escape his troubled home life with his father (David Cross), a poet, and his mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who bounces in and out of psychiatric hospitals. He soon meets the older Carr, with whom he is fascinated. Carr brings him into his odd circle, which includes Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Kerouac (Jack Huston).

It also includes David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), an older man who writes Carr's papers for him in exchange for sex. (For all Carr's cajoling of Ginsberg and Kerouac to come up with something revolutionary, he can't create anything himself.) Kammerer is increasingly jealous of Ginsburg and the others, with whom Carr is trying to craft a literary movement.

Ginsberg, inspired, begins in-class debates with one of his professors (John Cullum) about the nature of, and need for, rhyme and meter. He is also figuring out his sexuality; he obviously is smitten with Carr, though it isn't clear whether Carr feels the same way or is just using him.

We know what happens to the people, most of them, and their movement. The murder story is less well-known. The way Krokidas presents it, it seems like it wandered in from another movie.

Still, it's intriguing to watch younger versions of the celebrated artists try to work out their futures, and the future of writing (for a while, at least). Radcliffe is good, and Foster is a hoot as the druggy, aloof Burroughs. But our focus keeps coming back to Carr, thanks to DeHaan's performance. He's arrogant and maddening. And kind of sad.

You wouldn't want “Kill Your Darlings” to be the only information you ever get about the Beats. But it's a decent introduction for the uninitiated, and interesting enough to those who know the story.

Bill Goodykoontz is a staff writer for the Arizona Republic.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.