Portraying a gay character is the classic rite of passage for young actors, and this could well prove to be Daniel Radcliffe’s breakout role, for while Kill Your Darlings becomes steadily bogged down in a mess of romantic clichés he shines in his frantic depiction of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Easily the best thing about the film, Radcliffe evokes the drug-addled mania of Ginsberg’s poetry, and his pathetic infatuation with college friend Lucien (Dane DeHaan) is remarkably powerful; he brings sincerity to a film which recycles every old trope about brilliant young men in the book.
The film begins as pretty mundane biopic fare, flitting swiftly over Ginsberg’s early homosexual inclinations, his poetry, his rejection of authority and troubled family life within the first fifteen minutes. Columbia University is, of course, stagnant, filled with dry old men teaching the ‘old’ forms of literature; Ginsberg and his comrades inevitably get into trouble as they yearn for a richer form of writing. Some of the classroom scenes feel like they’ve been lifted from Dead Poets Society. The film feels like it’s just going through the motions until the second half, which suddenly descends into a confused jumble of events precipitated by a murder within the circle.
Despite a solid paper cast, including Ben Foster and Dexter’s Michael C Hall, the Beat circle’s actors are preposterously self-indulgent, labouring every sentence as though reading a dramatic monologue. Indeed it’s unclear what impression of the movement you’re meant to leave the cinema with; personally I found the film’s depiction rendered the Beats increasingly puerile, a bunch of spoilt, over-educated brats with inflated egos and too much time on their hands. It’s at least commendable for challenging, even inadvertently, the romantic myth surrounding the movement. Female characters receive rather short shrift, as beyond Ginsberg’s mummy issues and Kerouac’s muted girlfriend the action revolves solely around the adolescent men. For all that, though, the film feels strangely gentle and cautious (except the frenzied drug scenes, handled well by director John Krokidas) right up until the very end, when this atmosphere is shattered by a violent ‘penetration’ sequence composed of a stabbing, the use of heroin and Ginsberg’s first homosexual encounter. It’s oddly inconsistent with the schoolboy tomfoolery of the rest of the film; unfortunately, it’s also the only really original scene, as the Beats’ rejection of authority (breaking into the college library, stealing a boat to go out on the river) feels lame and clichéd. Music is pervasive throughout, but only feels right in Ginsberg’s writing scenes; the inclusion of the abysmally dated Libertines over the end credits is particularly weak.
It’s a shame, because Radcliffe does give a strong performance, even if at times it feels like he’s playing to type again – initially he’s socially awkward and unfamiliar with his new environment. But regardless of the film’s quality, he has proved that the days of Harry Potter are definitively in the past, and that he is a commendable actor in his own right.
PHOTOS// awardsdaily, radiotimes