Early on in Kill Your Darlings, 18-year-old Allen Ginsberg, played by Daniel Radcliffe, is on a freshman orientation tour of the Columbia University library when a fellow student jumps on a desk and begins quoting Henry Miller. Shouting provocative language from a banned book in a staid library is not just a singular act of rebellion, its a glimpse of the literary anarchy to come and a look at Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), Ginsbergs first love.
It is also America circa 1944 sexually repressed, obsessed with convention and about to be shaken by the Beat generation.
The intellectual outrage of Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs in seminal works such as Howl, On the Road and Naked Lunch will come later. The movie is all about before. The birth pangs of Beat.
Director John Krokidas Kill Your Darlings, co-written with Austin Bunn, focuses on the transformative year when Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs first meet. A smoky, sultry haze of jazz, sex, drugs, debates and death all swirling around the charismatic Carr, a Freudian tragedy portrayed with endless shadings by DeHaan.
The films got an indie-appropriate ensemble, beginning with Radcliffe as the Beat poet in his post-Harry Potter push to diversify. Jack Huston is the raw-boned Kerouac.
Ben Foster steps in as Burroughs, mumbling a few dry observations, but mostly minding the drugs, including the heroin that would enslave him and unleash him, chronicled unforgettably in Junkie, his first novel.
The story is anchored by Ginsbergs coming of age, coming out.
A shy, studious teen, his relatively cloistered upbringing undergoes a seismic shift upon entering the chaotic world of college.
Carr is the catalyst for most of what happened that year, including the brutal death of his older lover, David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall).
The film begins with Kammerer dead, Carr behind bars and Ginsberg having written an account of the night in question. Whether it is fact or fiction, Carr knows it will destroy him. Their exchange over Ginsbergs words ends in a scream.
It makes for a movie whose allegiance is constantly divided.
The romance between Ginsberg and Carr never quite reaches the intensity it needs; their intellectual grappling is far more intriguing terrain.