Monday, October 14, 2013

KILL YOUR DARLINGS: It's Ginsberg time again in John Krokidas' dark, sad, funny "other" fest

What an unusual and surprisingly successful piece of work is KILL YOUR DARLINGS (not to be mistaken for that very interesting but not finally very successful film from 2006 starring Lolita Davidovich and Andreas Wilson). This is at least the fourth movie in as many years to tackle the subject of Allen Ginsberg and his poet pals of the "beat generation," as it was so-called. Oddly enough, all four films are quite good, whether Ginsberg is front and center (as here and in Howl) or simply part of the ensemble (as in On the Road or the fine documentary The Beat Hotel).

As directed by a young  fellow who seems to have come directly from out-of-the-blue, John Krokidas (this is his first full-lengther, after making a couple of shorts), the movie is quite stunning -- fortunately less for any of its individual "effects" that for how very well the filmmaker has woven them all into his dark tale of life at Columbia University circa 1944 among a group of people who can most effectively be described as "the other." Not only were several of them homosexual (at at time in our history when this really was the love that dare not speak its name), these outsiders were champing at the bit of every-thing remotely traditional -- from sex to poetry to the classroom canon. Struggling to create new art forms and life/love relationships, they were, to be sure, poseurs of a sort (weren't we all--isn't that part of growing up?), yet a number of them also possessed a good deal of talent.

Of the group we see here, Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe, at left), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster) have the real thing, while two others -- a young man named Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) and his older "pal" David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) -- are more provocateurs/

Because Carr is so immediately alluring, full of himself and hugely attractive to Ginsberg, it takes awhile for the budding poet (and us) to begin to notice the flush behind the flash.

It helps, too, that Mr. DeHaan (above) gives such a wired, full-out performance. Despite Mr. Radcliffe's star-power and popularity, DeHaan's is the pivotal role in the film, and the actor makes it work by initially seducing us with his gorgeous, energetic facade, and then slowly letting the cracks appear.

Not that Radcliffe himself isn't just fine as the young Ginsberg. The actor seems here bent on dislodging a certain Mister Potter as far out of our memory as possible, and he does just that. As a young man just beginning to discover his talent and sexual proclivities, he's moment-to-moment as truthful as you could want -- whether in his interaction with his peers or his parents (that's the ever-remarkable Jennifer Jason Leigh (above, as mom) and a very surprising David Cross (reminding us of a young Lee Wilkoff), shown below, with Radcliffe, as dad.

Mr. Foster, below, always good, gets the look and just-slightly-off-beat/off-key behavior of Burroughs so right that it took me awhile to realize who it was playing this particular role.

Returning perhaps to his Six Feet Under roots, Mr. Hall (below), who is most likely at this point too be remembered for his performances there and in Dexter, makes his needy, angry Kammerer character a very sad and memorable one.

If Mr. Huston's Kerouac (shown below, left, with Elizabeth Olsen as his girlfriend) pales a bit beside that of Sam Riley's in On the Road, it's only because Riley received much more screen time.  Here, Kerouac seems (probably correctly, too) more acted-upon than a self-starter.

Krokidas and his ace crew have brought back the 1940s in beautiful, if dark, fashion. The sets, costumes, cars, and pursuits of the characters -- mostly drugs, booze, sex and writing -- are all on the mark, genuinely interesting and believable, too. The screenplay by Krokidas and Austin Bunn is also first-rate in its ability to glance off things quickly and efficiently while leading us exactly where we need to go.

How the filmmaker delivers certain hallucinatory scenes of drug/booze-fueled highs are quite affecting and unusual. In fact, the entire movie could be called affecting and unusual, especially in the manner in which it tackles the subject of being an "other" when that meant living such a highly proscribed life that it was no wonder that Ginsberg -- in his poetry as in all else -- simply had to break free.

How and why he does this, Krokidas and his crack cast help show us so very well that Kill Your Darlings becomes one of this year's best films.

From Sony Pictures Classics and running a surprisingly swift 104 minutes, the movie opens this Wednesday, October 16, in New York City (the Walter Reade Theater and the Sunshine Cinema) and in Los Angeles (at The Landmark).

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