How far has Daniel Radcliffe distanced himself from the bespectacled boy wizard? Let me count the ways – 1) by stripping naked on top of a horse in Equus, 2) by singing his lungs out in How To Succeed in Business Without Trying, 3) by playing an unconvincing bearded lawyer-father in the godawful Woman in Black. Now he’s picked up the iconic horn-rimmed specs to portray Beat Generation messiah Allen Ginsberg, a decision that seems initially ill-advised. Radcliffe as Ginsberg isn’t exactly a far cry from the Potter resemblance, the eye accoutrement being the sole distraction. Thankfully, he’s competently played Ginsberg with some much-needed depth in a film that attempts to peel the origin story beneath the almost-mythical Beat Generation, whose founders include Ginsberg himself, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs.
I have huge reservations when it comes to Beat Generation films – its egotistic pretension made manifest in Howl (bar James Franco’s dictum-perfect performance), and its preening self-importance is writ large in Walter Salles’s despairingly dull On The Road. There’s just something about the verve and restless energy about the Beat that’s too free-spirited to bottle in a film, so I’m happy to report that I didn’t spend the entire running-time of Kill Your Darlings rolling my eyeballs into the back of my skull. Don’t mistake, there are clichés galore. The clickety-tap of typewriters proliferate moments when Ginsberg and gang conceptualise their manifesto, interspersed with shots of an orgy of drugs, booze and jazz, feels obligatory rather than organic, their counterculture antics against the stuffy educational institution translate as derivative rather than compelling. But then it’s hard to imagine a Beat film without this freewheeling maelstrom of hedonism de rigeur to this era. So instead of sidestepping this, John Krokidas indulges in it. What he captures in Kill Your Darlings is an energetic rhythm that eluded previous Beat movies. The editing, the montages, all add up to a syncopated cadence that gives the film its vibrant pulse.
Yet it’s not all just iambic pentametres though. Krokidas’s film is at its most complex portraying the homoerotic relationship between the three players – Ginsberg’s unreciprocated feelings for the charismatic, sly fox Lucien Carr, who in turn is engaged in a destructive affair with college benefactor David Kammerer. In other less-able hands, this weird, unconsummated ménage-a-trois would have resulted in melodramatic cheese, but Radcliffe conveys the tortured soul of Ginsberg so touchingly and Dane DeHaan steals the show, creating an enigmatic, ambiguous figure in Carr – who this film outspokenly claims as Ginsberg’s conflicted inspiration. The film’s final moments, while anachronistically soundtracked, expose the film’s bruised heart, implying the Carr’s crucial role in the historical narrative of Ginsberg and the Beat poets. That without Carr, Ginsberg wouldn’t be the same icon etched forever in radical literature.[separator type=”space”] DIRECTOR: John Krokidas | CAST: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Ben Foster, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston | SCREENPLAY: John Krokidas, Austin Bunn | DISTRIBUTOR: Works UK Distribution | RUNNING-TIME: 104 mins | GENRE: Drama/Romance/Crime | COUNTRY: USA