Not sure I should be writing under "fan reviews" as I've been a freelance reviewer for 35 years for both major publications as The LA Times, and the Washington Post, as well as on line sites such as I Love a Mystery. The majority of my reviews have been for mysteries, suspense, SF, and other "genre" material. But "Kill Your Darlings' is as much an historic crime film as it is a search for the milestones that bonded the Beat Generation poets and made them great. And I certainly am a fan of both of those.
Unfortunately "Kill Your Darlings' lets its reach exceed its grasp as Browning advised, but I don't think Browning meant the reach to come nowhere near its grasp, as this sadly pretentious movie does.
The failings begin with the cast, especially the younger members, who choose to go for attitudes only for the young Burroughs, Ginsberg, Carr, and to a lesser extent Kerouac, rather than finding the honest truth of their characters. They're passion for the literature of "the new vision" is reduced to a college level "Brat Pack" mentaity, and ultimately less honest than the John Hughes films.
Dealing with the historically true murder of Lucien Carr's older lover David Krammerer, played with over-intensity by Michael C. Hall. Carr was convicted of the murder of his lover, and according to the film, with Krammerer begging him for the stabs he receives to the chest. Carr then drags the body to a near-by lake and disposes of it. Carr only served two years and lived a long productive life working for the UPI until his death in 2005.
Lucien Carr's famous son, Caleb Carr, who wrote the superb suspense novel, "The Alienist" set in late 19th century New York City, believes his father was driven to kill by ths older man who was essentially no better than a stalker and a pedophile who had physically and psychologically abused his father for years until he exploded and killed his tormentor.
No matter which view you choose to believe this movie is about "the murder that united the Beats" fails to convince because of the superficial acting and often prentious and platitude filled writing.
Radcliffe as Ginnsberg is woefully miscast as the American, Jewish, homosexual breakthrough poet. He plays at being the neophyte sucked into the Columbia rebel school of poetry led by Carr and the others. We never see Ginsberg's real torment or the seeds of his brilliance. Even his smoking of a cigarette is clearly that of a non-smoker. Foster's Burroughs is all "laid back" attitude. Nowhere is the man who would become a criminal and then one of the post powerful writers of his generation. And Dane DeHaan's Carr never gets beyond "Ain't I cool and look how conflicted I am" posturizing.
The younger actors could take a clue from the more experienced members of the cast. Jennifer Jason Leigh's convincing perfomance of a woman who, while badly beaten down by her tortured life, yet heroically strives to soldier on, is powerful and moving. And John Cullom's Englist Lit. professor at Columbia displays more true emotion in his defense of traditional literature than all of the supposed rebel beats combined. Veteran character actor David Raschi is solid, and Edie Parker as Kerouac's wife is angry and hurt and hysterical in all the right places. Unfortunately none of these fine actors have lead roles.
Writer/Director John Krokidas clearly wants his flm to shock the audience as the Beats shocked a generation. Perhaps that's why he cast "Harry Potter" in the lead, thinking that Racliffe in explicit, nude, drug using, homosexual love scenes would have the intended effect. But nudity amd homosexuality are no longer unexplored film topics, and using Racliffe simply is a distraction making us wonder "What the hell is Harry Potter doing here and where's his wand--the real magical one that is."
The fire needs to be in the beats' artistic necessity to rock the world with their words; their antics are only seconday. Unfortunately "Kill Your Darlings" sadly focuses only on the latter. The other legitimate choice would have been to explore the sensational historical murder element, which could have been a really entertaining period crime flick on the order of "The Girl in the Red Velet Swing" in which Ray Milland plays the world famous architect Stanford White murdered by his less successful competitor.
Though the cinemaography projects a fine darkish, brooding, noir style and the mid-forties end of the war era set designs are convincing and lovingly detailed, no movie can use these arts, as cruial as they may be, to rise above a mediocre script and largely failed performances. The Beat generation is an area that definitely needs further exploration, and with "Kill Your Darlings", unfortunately still does.