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Pretty Bad70%
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1 review, 4 user ratings

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Kill Your Darlings (2013)
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by Jay Seaver

"Promises murder and doesn't even deliver poetry."
2 stars

It's probably not a good sign when the cast member of a movie featuring several noteworthy young actors playing real-life people whose names, at least, should be familiar to all in the audience who makes the biggest impression is the guy playing the lead character's father in a handful of scenes. And while that deliberately overstates what a drag "Kill Your Darlings" turns out to be, it's also not far off-base: There's a heck of a story being told by this movie, but the guys who should be making it great seldom get much of a chance to shine.

It's 1943, and Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) has been accepted to Columbia University. He has inherited a talent for poetry from his father Louis (David Cross), but is already chafing at the formality of it. That draws him to upperclassman Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), who has bounced around various schools before landing in New York; Lucien brings him to a party at the house of David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) where they meet William Burroughs and begin plotting a literary "New Vision" Eventually the group expands to include Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), but by that time it's become clear that while Lucien is a charismatic ringleader, he's got some severe issues, with David at the center of them.

The film opens with someone dying and Allen writing an account of the events that hit too close to home for some, so those issues are rather severe indeed. That flash-forward is over quickly, but that it's there at all seems a mistake - when a movie opens with murder, that just highlights how the next hour of young men talking about how they're going to liberate themselves from the restrictions of meter and formality (aided, of course, by drugs and alcohol) is not particularly interesting to non-English majors, particularly since director John Krokidas and co-writer Austin Bunn don't actually show us why this is such an important step beyond schoolboy pranks. It feels like a long time before the movie circles back around, long enough that some of the most interesting parts of the story get reduced to captions before the credits.

And it's not as though the set-up needed to get there is particularly complicated - the exact details of the situation with Lucien and David take awhile to come out, but are never particularly important; it's pretty clear from the start. Similarly, Allen's attraction to Lucien beyond the desire to change the world of literature is obvious from the start, but runs in place for so long with such a theatrical performance from DeHaan that it often feels more like a parody of the way queer themes would be inserted into old movies via innuendo than the real thing. Meanwhile, there are subplots involving Allen's mother and Jack's girlfriend that do little but squander the presence of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Elizabeth Olsen (and Kyra Sedgwick, who goes uncredited as Lucien's mother).

But, then, this is a movie about young men, and the cast is fairly adequate there. Radcliffe may not be giving a spellbinding performance, but he is more than good enough to hold the movie together as Allen Ginsberg; his performance never feels like an impersonation despite the hairdo he's given as much as a likable, unworldly young man with some talent and a rebellious streak. Dane DeHaan goes the other way for much of the movie, playing an over-educated but under-achieving student with the sort of upper-class accent that often seems more like a reference to stock film characters than an individual, although he's usually not bad when circumstances break through that persona. Michael C. Hall actually underplays his stalker's combination of being authoritative and pathetic fairly nicely. Still, Jack Huston and Ben Foster often seem to be there just because Burroughs and Kerouac were a part of the story and are too famous to exclude or composite. David Cross, on the other hand, brings enough energy to Louis Ginsberg whenever he pops up briefly that I wished he was in more than a handful of scenes, even if a father-and-son story wasn't in the cards.

The group of famous figures seems to make Krokidas and company a little lazy at times, as though these literary giants' reputations should be enough to make them interesting. Not all the time - the jazzy titles and opening do presage a few fairly energetic moments, for instance. Another attempt to inject some style into the picture feels labored and flat, though - flashbacks often include bits being run backwards, but often of moments that are so relatively still that the audience spends more time wondering what sort of gibberish is being sucked into the characters' mouths than recognizing the device for what it is.

That at least indicates effort being made to make a great film, and it's not like that work is never rewarded. But perhaps Krokidas could have followed the exhortation of the film's title and cut out the nice but unnecessary bits that ground the telling of a good story to a halt, or allowed the ruthlessness to show up in that story more. Instead, it's far less than a true story about legends tangled up in scandal and murder should be.

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originally posted: 11/13/13 13:49:44
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2013 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Hamptons International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Hamptons International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/04/17 danR Hanging creative tinsel on the branches of literary lions is cinematic fraud. 2 stars
4/16/14 Charles Tatum Ginsberg as amateur sleuth doesn't work 4 stars
11/21/13 Fire With Fire Ginsberg:selfish,pederast DEVIL / overrated artist / USA-hater 1 stars
11/18/13 Chris Mckenzie Not a big Fan 3 stars
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  16-Oct-2013 (R)
  DVD: 18-Mar-2014


  05-Dec-2013 (MA)
  DVD: 18-Mar-2014

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