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Kill Your Darlings

Sony Pictures // R // October 16, 2013
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]

Review by Jeff Nelson | posted October 11, 2013 | E-mail the Author

Biographical motion pictures can be exceptionally tricky. They require a lot of research and an incredibly strong understanding of the characters and the sequences of events. This ultimately makes for either a great feature or a terrible attempt at a representation of the past. Writer/director John Krokidas has made his full-length feature debut with the picture Kill Your Darlings, which made its debut at Sundance Film Festival at the beginning of 2013. With the help of writer Austin Bunn, Krokidas has created a biographical romantic drama that walks upon a very safe line. While the story itself is quite intriguing, it never comes across as being entirely realized. In fact, it generally seems confused as to how it should connect one scene to the next. Even though it will keep your attention from start to finish, this representation of the beat generation is a bit all over the place.

Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) has been experiencing a difficult time. He's faced with the task of taking care of his mother, otherwise she'll be forced to return to a mental hospital. One day, he receives an acceptance letter to Columbia University. After his father encourages him to attend, he decides to pursue his passion in university. He meets young Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), which breaks him from his "good boy" attitude. A murder in 1944 draws together the great poets of the beat generation. Under the influence of drugs and alcohol, they stand for everything that goes against the system.

Since the film is told from Allen's perspective, the plot would fail if it wasn't able to make us feel somewhat sympathetic towards the lead character. The first act introduces Allen and his good nature. He's constantly fighting to do the right thing for the people around him. It's clear from the very first time that he sees Lucien that he would be the one to change everything. The character development begins almost instantly. Even though we aren't constantly being told that Allen is changing, he's clearly being influenced by every decision that he makes. Writers John Krokidas and Austin Bunn have impressive hands at crafting dialogue, but they don't remain consistent throughout. It's incredibly witty and smart when they're discussing poetry while drinking. They often get conversations where they philosophize about their lives and the world around them. These scenes are great, but the more dramatic sequences can sometimes come off as being a bit phony.

As you continue to get further in the running time, it starts to fly off the rails. I was entirely captivated by Kill Your Darlings when it focused on the characters' relationship with poetry and philosophy. However, it's difficult to get past the dramatic material between the roles. Even though the characters are strong, the dialogue and development go downhill. Some of the conversations come across as being cheap and tacky, while the characters go from being genuine to feeling fairly one-dimensional. The relationships started in the spotlight, but they ultimately don't seem to be the priority. The filmmakers and the audience are in the exact same boat at this point. Both parties are incredibly eager to return to the scenes of watching Allen and Lucien drink and philosophize. Unfortunately, we don't get the chance to return to this portion of the plot. Writer/director Krokidas strives to make the third act as engaging as the first, but it simply never manages to pick itself back up.

With such an excellent story, it's a shame that the filmmakers had such a difficult time keeping a consistent tone. At times, Kill Your Darlings is full of life and passion, but the film suddenly becomes lifeless and generic. It steals some elements from other pictures, such as Dead Poets Society. It even becomes a bit repetitive, making it difficult to remain engaged in its progressions. The uneven shifts in tone are partly responsible for how the characters are portrayed. They take the backseat, as the filmmakers attempt to finish the film's plot quickly. This portion of the movie feels incredibly rushed. The filmmakers took their time to build upon this story, making it a disappointment that they couldn't maintain consistency.

Despite the fact that was made with an extremely small budget, the film still managed to cast a fantastic group of actors. This is Daniel Radcliffe's second film since the Harry Potter series. However, he does an outstanding job in the role of Allen Ginsberg. Not only does he feel organic in this role, but he delivers every word of the dialogue very well. Dane DeHaan matches Radcliffe's energy to perfection as Lucien Carr. He delivers a strong performance when he's on screen solo, but he's even more impressive when he's interacting with Radcliffe. Michael C. Hall delivers a satisfying representation of David Kammerer, and adds a certain mystery to the character, if you don't already know the story. Elizabeth Olsen receives a shockingly small amount of screen time, but she's fantastic in every scene she's portrayed in. There isn't a single disappointing performance to be found, as every one of them comes across as being genuine.

Writer/director John Krokidas has brought an insanely interesting story to the big screen, but it isn't as consistent as one would hope. The first act is strong with the development of its characters, as well as the well-crafted dialogue. The discussions that follow poetry and philosophy are utterly captivating. Unfortunately, from the second act on, the tonal shifts are awkward. All of the great build-up leads to some repetitive material where the interesting characters are forced into the backseat. Fortunately, Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan still manage to carry the motion picture with their exceptional performances. Even when the feature is at its weakest point, Radcliffe and DeHaan make it somehow more acceptable. Kill Your Darlings doesn't tell this story in the best way, but it still has its share of decent material. Rent it.



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