Film Review: Kill Your Darlings (MA15+) (USA, 2013)

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“Rhyme, meter, conceit. Without this balance, a poem becomes slack.”

Allan Ginsberg’s poetry professor proclaims this line in the earlier moments of Kill Your Darlings, and throughout its runtime I found myself wishing that the film had heeded this advice. Kill Your Darlings is a schizophrenic trip through the origins of the Beat Generation that never quite figures itself out.

We meet later much lauded poet Allan Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) as he receives his acceptance to Columbia University. Coming from a somewhat broken home, Allan is as green as he can be as he heads to New York and college life. He is soon sucked into the wild lifestyle of fellow undergrad Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), who introduces him to fellow creatives – who will become similarly famous – Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster). Together they promise to change the world and rebel against archaic institutions, but Lucien’s tempestuous relationship with an unstable professor (Michael C. Hall) threatens to impact them all.

I wasn’t at all familiar with Allan Ginsberg or the Beat Generation prior to watching this, and I don’t think I learnt anything in particular from watching this. What superficially appears to be Ginsberg’s story isn’t really anyone’s in particular; director John Krokidas wants to be inside Ginsberg’s head but instead settles for a half-hearted omniscience view of the proceedings for most of the runtime.

In technical terms it’s a little all over the place, right from the decidedly unsubtle caps lock titles. The film is a sound argument against handheld camerawork, with shots frequently wandering and out of focus. Anachronistic punk music peppers the soundtrack; it’s a neat attempt to draw parallels between our protagonists and rebellious young people that came later, but it falls flat and feels downright odd most of the time.

For all of its faults, Kill Your Darlings is saved by its performances. Daniel Radcliffe is well on his way to completely outgrowing Harry Potter; his portrayal of Allan Ginsberg is mature yet naive and anchors the film. Supporting players Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, and Ben Foster all do a fine job, and Elizabeth Olsen, one of my favourite young actresses, is criminally underused as Jack Kerouac’s long suffering girlfriend Edie. But the real star of Kill Your Darlings is rising star Dane DeHaan; he is absolutely electric on screen and inhabits the role of Lucien Carr completely. He’s an astounding talent and one that I’m keen to see a lot more of.

There’s enough in Kill Your Darlings to make it a worthwhile watch, but ultimately it’s all talk and no action. It’s attempting to be rebellious, much like its protagonists, but its lofty ambitions end up falling flat.

REVIEW SCORE: TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Kill Your Darlings is in selected cinemas now. Head to http://www.killyourdarlingsmovie.com.au/ for session times and more details.