I will admit, I am not entirely familiar with the Beat Generation. In fact, I hadn’t even heard the term, despite knowing the names involved, until I saw this film. How embarrassing is that! On the other hand, I was familiar with the time, the place and the people mentioned, to at least a degree strong enough to make their names, actions and contributions ring true to me. While never having read any of his work, Jack Kerouac is a name I’m very familiar with, as is William S. Burroughs, and while I didn’t know all the surrounding circumstances, I was at least familiar with the murder of David Kammerer.
I knew it happened, and that Lucien Carr was responsible.
For me, a film like ‘Kill Your Darlings’ works almost for the same reason that it doesn’t work. It is, in essence, two separate films wedged together to create something that resembles a whole film, but because of that it steps away from the obvious at times long enough to create something that feels more stimulating. While it does deal with the murder itself, and the relationships that surround the people involved (either through actions or knowledge), the film is steeped in something bigger than that.
And yet, one can easily fault the film for spreading itself too thin in an attempt to cover more than necessary, for some of the issues it claims to consider wind up feeling very lost in the shuffle.
It’s a mixed bag, and so is this review.
First, I’ll lay out everything I liked about this. Dane DeHane delivers one of the truest ‘star is born’ performances I’ve seen since Jude Law in ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’, and quite frankly the performance itself felt very similar. He is so electric on the screen, so ‘in your face’ and yet so fragile and complicated and so much more than he seems. He handles every complexity within Lucien Carr with such finesse. His tantrums, his introverted fears, his outlandish attention-seeking whorishness, his complete ability to engulf a room; all of these facets make this such a marvelously layered and commanding performance. Speaking of Carr, I felt like his sub-plot, in all of its facets, felt the most grounded. The development, however unsettled, of his relationship with Krammerer and with Kurouac and with Ginsberg all felt like they had such rich detail and identity, and all of them felt unique and complete in their own right. In fact, the entire ensemble was so well composed. Foster, Hall, Huston and even Radcliffe (although he was easily the least interesting aspect of the film) are all up to the task here. Radcliffe was certainly eager to shed any inkling of Harry Potter, and he did so with dignity intact.
Sadly, the least successful aspect of the film is the construction of the Beat Generation itself. While these men are all so interesting in their own right (especially Carr and Kerouac), their established ‘generation’ felt so lazily put together and not entirely complete. By the film’s end, I was struggling to understand what made their cause so special, or really what their cause was all about (other than offending the world with literature considered vile). This is an issue, because it feels underdeveloped in an area that needed the most development.
Still, as a character study, this is pretty dynamic in so many different ways, and watching Ginsberg soak in the people in his life, feeding off of them in order to find his own identity was pretty alarming and rewarding. As an ensemble, it is also really strong. I just wish that it worked as strongly as a statement on the times, because then it would have felt as well-rounded as it wanted to be.
I give this a B. There are so many strong aspects here, but the lack of real construction of the Beat Generation knocked the film down a peg and exposed a weakness that needn't be there. Still, this was a GREAT year for DeHane, who showed such range and this was such a memorable and magnetic performance that I'm so happy to have been witness to!