Words: Rob DeStefano

kill-your-darlings

The streets are alive with the sound of:
a) Sponsors requesting that you fly American Airlines! And stuff your face with Doritos!
b) Founder’s Pass holders grumbling after their all inclusive (and dangerously expensive) tickets still require them to stand frantically in a line
c) Chattering from the publicity reps through espionage devices, “Ralph Fiennes wants a taco!” or
d) Both silence and applause after a film – they sometimes can mean the same thing.

Although these noises culminate to a cacophony that again brings life to the autumnal, under-stuffed Hamptons, the general sound after the opening of this year’s 21st Hamptons International Film Festival was steady applause.

HIFF 2013 raised its curtains to Kill Your Darlings, a first feature from director John Krokidas. The film covers the repressed desires, manipulations, and eventual murder experienced by the beat poets in 1944. Daniel Radcliffe plays Allen Ginsberg, who has just left behind his mentally unstable mother to matriculate at Columbia University. Shortly after he is settled, an upper classman Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) takes him under his wing, shuttling him off to Christopher Street and introducing him to whiskey and something called cannabis. Ginsberg gets acquainted with young versions of English class staples: Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), his girl Edie Parker (Elizabeth Olsen), and William Burroughs (Ben Foster). The most mysterious member of Ginsberg’s new life is David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall); he and Carr have a past, but Kammerer now exists on the fringes, calling Carr away or appearing in places he has no right to be. There is an obvious connection between the two, but how deep and entangling, Ginsberg does not yet know.

I recently strapped in and watched a double feature of Gaspar Noe’s first two films. The natural development and maturation between his 1998 debut I Stand Alone and 2002’s Irreversible is obvious. While I Stand Alone is a bizarrely unique film, there are many moments, mainly in its construction, that are noticeably virgin. If someone showed me Kill Your Darlings and asked, “What number film is this for Mr. Krokidas?” I would probably respond with, “Um. Five?” His film is so confident and clearly personal that it fills the screen with refreshing vitality.

The narrative is somewhat loose and sprawling, but it serves as a solid mirror for the ideals of this poet collective. “Tear them up boys! Destroy the old and build the new!” proclaims Burroughs. While Krokidas and his co-writer Austin Bunn take their time with establishing the mechanics that lead to Kammerer’s death, the underlying conflict, the emotions, that give the story its momentum are present since Ginsberg and Carr’s first encounter. The filmmakers do an excellent job at prolonging Ginsberg’s inevitable confession; he clearly lusts after Carr, who in return mimics a siren. The dynamic between the three core males Ginsberg-Carr-Kammerer is another model embodiment of the Yeats poem that continuously works its way back into the story.

The production design and technical aspects are all superb for such a tight budget (I want to say in the director’s opening he hinted at it being somewhere below $5 million), but the heart of Kill Your Darlings is its performances. The cast slips into their characters and the era with easy conviction. I hate to say that the only exception for me was Elizabeth Olsen; maybe it has something to do with her distinctive voice. It’s good to see Radcliffe breaking away from the world of fantasy and successfully blending in as a non-wizard, a muggle, ah f**k I said it. He, along with the others, succeeds at balancing comedy and the darker, dramatic moments. This especially works during a library heist scene that begins lite and ends with a psychosexual experience in the isolated stacks – top psychosexual library scene since The Pagemaster. Foster delivers one of the best performances – he speaks with droll sarcasm as he continuously infuses reality altering agents into his system – but the true star here is DeHaan (The Place Beyond the Pines, Chronicle). He is as damaged and simultaneously charismatic as he has been in his other roles. He is developing a type, and we will see this again when he enters the Spider-man franchise as Harry Osborn. It works for him. He commands attention and is so enjoyable to watch, even when he is frightening. This is a young performer unquestionably on the rise, and the same enthusiasm applies to John Krokidas. I’m sure we will see more projects coming his way. I look forward to the results.

Grade: B+

Kill Your Darlings will have a limited release beginning on October 16th. If you’re in NYC, check out The Landmark Sunshine Theater for showtimes.

Director: John Krokidas
Written by: John Krokidas and Austin Bunn
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, Ben Foster, Jack Huston, Elizabeth Olsen, Kyra Sedgwick, Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Cross
Production Co: Killer Films


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