Before the Beat writers became the libidinous pranksters of American literature, they were just kids with a lot of bark and little bite at Columbia University in the mid-1940s. Director John Krokidas’s feature debut centers on Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), a wide-eyed freshman who leaves behind a mentally unstable mother in Paterson, New Jersey, for the vibrancy of New York. He’s quickly drawn to the charismatic Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), who becomes both his romantic crush and the linchpin of a rambunctious “Libertine Circle” that includes jock Jack Kerouac (Boardwalk Empire’s Jack Huston) and well-attired weirdo “Willie” Burroughs (Ben Foster). Yet their camaraderie stokes the jealousy of Carr’s sugar daddy, David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), which embroils them all in a grisly homicide that remains, even 70 years on, irreconcilably shocking.
Kill Your Darlings works best as a retroactive coming-out story, with the well-cast Radcliffe as a virginal Ginsberg discovering sex, drugs and the West Village. But implanted into a slide-show version of 1943 that’s populated by historical figures long lost to cliché, any emotional investment gets buried under dress-up games and Bill & Ted’s–worthy rubbernecking. (Sample line: “That’s Ogden Nash!”) There’s a heart here, but with all the superficial noise, it’s hard to hear it beating.
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