There’s so many potentially interesting tales to be told about The Beat Generation, but Kill Your Darlings just can’t really land on one that is worthy of its runtime.

There’s certainly much to admire about the flick — from its supporting performances to its soundtrack of new hipster grooves (such as TV on the Radio), to its dedication to the period in set design) — but the entire picture seems unclear as to who its designed to appeal to.

Our main protagonist is Allen Ginsberg (played by Daniel Radcliffe), an earnest, modest poet yearning to taste the true life of a poet. He escapes his damaged home life, in which he was left caring for his psychotic mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and gets accepted at the prestigious Columbia University, where he soon stumbles into the company of such literary-icons-to-be as William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, who are all brought together by effete socialite Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan).

Kill Your Darlings
Directed by
John Krokidas
Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall
Release Date
Rob’s Grade: C-

Darlings slowly lurchers toward the infamous case of Carr’s murder of college professor David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), who stalked the young lad and was said to make threatening advances one drunken evening that ultimately left him on the business end of Carr’s pocket knife and subsequently tossed into the Hudson.

It’s a tawdry, salacious tale that has been addressed in various formats from the like of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs, and certainly seems cinematic enough in setup, but Darlings seems to fumble its approach, leaving too little both with its crowded list of characters or its climactic confrontation with Kammerer, whose relegated to Pluto status in this film’s solar system. Also, seems rather sympathetic to Kammerer, who, by all accounts, began courting Carr when he was only 14.

Ironically, the film’s more interesting aspects are in the prankish antics of Carr and Ginsberg (accompanied at times by Burroughs and Kerouac) sticking the middle finger to the establishment, dabbling with various illicit drugs, and lounging in jazz clubs, ushering in the upcoming hippie movement.

First-time director John Krokidas suffers from an embarrassment of riches in the acting department — aside from landing the post-Potter Radcliffe, Ben Foster is underused as the drugged-up Ginsberg, David Cross cameos as the elder Ginsberg, and Elizabeth Olsen provides a blink-and-you-missed-it cameo. He tries to compensate artistically, by adding a number of needless artistic flourishes that add little to the proceedings and look like someone who wanted to use some of the tricks learned in film school.

For anyone wishing for a more nuanced look at the fuse lighting the Beat movement, consider checking out a copy of Kerouac’s “Vanity of Dolouz,” or “Desolation Angels” (where Ginsberg is referred to as Irwin Garden). Darlings has many things in its favor, but its oddly detached and bland. It never truly finds its rhythm and really misses the Beat.

Review by Rob Rector, Film Critic