Daniel Radcliffe isn’t an obvious choice to play Beat poet Allen Ginsberg – far from it, in fact. But leaving Hogwarts further behind with each movie, he gives an affecting, believably cerebral performance in first-time director John Krokidas’ intoxicating biopic, which follows a wide-eyed Ginsberg through his early days at Columbia Uni.
Dane DeHaan equally mesmerises as Lucien Carr, the rebel with a literary cause who takes the besotted Ginsberg under his wing and introduces him to future fellow Beats William Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston). Krokidas unfolds this comparatively little-known chapter of Ginsberg’s life in enthralling detail; discussions of poetic form sit comfortably alongside a murder plot that’s close to gothic romance.
Carr, who would become known as the “fallen angel” of the Beats, is locked into a suffocating relationship with former mentor David Kammerer (played with unsettling poignancy by Michael C. Hall). Even without the flash-forward opening, the violent conclusion would feel inevitable; DeHaan plays Carr like a coiled spring.
Krokidas directs with a manic-depressive energy reflective of Carr, but while DeHaan is the driving force, Radcliffe is the heart of the piece; every moment of Ginsberg’s unrequited love feels painfully immediate. The rest of the cast fare less well, with Elizabeth Olsen under-served as Edie Parker and Huston’s Kerouac left to meander in a subplot.
A heady, visually bold melodrama that pulls off the rare trick of depicting writing well on screen, Kill Your Darlings is an auspicious debut for Krokidas – and a new post-Potter high for Radcliffe.
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