Telling the true story of someone’s life in a film is a difficult task. The trappings of the biopic genre become glaringly apparent when filmmakers try to chronicle an entire life in a two-hour film. There are innumerable events over the course of a person’s lifespan that alter him or her, for better or worse, and humans are always undergoing change. Trying to discern which events are most important is a futile effort, and more often than not, the cradle-to-grave biopic results in a droll feature. However, when the filmmaker focuses on a constrained period of time in a person’s life and frames an entire film around that, the results can be fascinating. Such is the case with writer/director John Krokidas’ drama Kill Your Darlings, which chronicles the early college years of poet Allen Ginsberg and the beginnings of the Beat movement, using that as a springboard to explore themes of rebellion, obsession, and self-discovery.
The result is an ambitious, bombastic debut feature for Krokidas, buoyed by a pair of fearless performances from Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan. My full Kill Your Darlings Blu-ray review follows after the jump.
Right from the opening shots, Kill Your Darlings demands your attention. The film begins at the end, showing snippets of events in reverse that color the rest of the feature with a sense of foreboding. After the stellar title shot, the pic moves backwards in time as we’re introduced to Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe). He lives with his poet father and mentally ill mother, but when he’s accepted to Columbia for college, he seizes the opportunity to break free and start to explore who he is and what he wants to become. Though he’s outwardly a bit sheepish, Ginsberg has a vitality and optimism that shines when he meets a fellow high-minded student, Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan).
Krokidas does a swell job of hinting at romantic feelings between Ginsberg and Carr without delving into schmaltz or exploitation territory. This is still the 1940s and homosexuality is a crime, so the two are hesitant to bare their feelings even when they’re alone. Through Lucien, Allen is introduced to a host of other artful folk, including a drug-savvy William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster) and an antsy Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston). Ginsberg also runs across an older man, David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), who seemingly has a complicated relationship with Lucien that involves writing the young boy’s papers in return for intimacy. It’s the relationship between Ginsberg, Carr, and Kammerer that provides the dramatic throughline of the film that slowly turns sinister.
The highlight of Darlings is the performances, specifically Radcliffe as Ginsberg. The actor shreds any and all baggage from the Harry Potter series to fully embrace the character, bringing a vitality, curiosity, and strength to the poet. Ginsberg’s budding sexuality is a major theme of the film, but Radcliffe avoids any clichés that might be associated with such a story, instead playing the role with an honesty and innocence that’s quite refreshing. He and DeHaan also have excellent chemistry, and the latter plays Lucien with charisma to spare, making it easy to see how so many could fall for his free spirit.
Krokidas is ambitious in his storytelling and direction, and while not everything works, the filmmaker shows great promise. His visual encapsulation of the many drug trips is exciting, and he stages the opening of the film in a way that perfectly sets up the rest of the story. At times the film can feel a bit too ambitious, and in trying to capture the admittedly fascinating flourishes of characters like Burroughs and Kerouac, the story starts to meander and lose focus, even feeling a bit boring at times. This is Ginsberg’s film, and when he’s in the spotlight the pic shines.
The visual transfer of the film is solid, if a tad rough around the edges in spots—though this may just be a result of the shooting process itself. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 has no noticeable faults.
For a movie that failed to catch on with audiences, this Blu-ray release actually has a fair amount of bonus features. The package also includes a DVD copy of the film.
- Audio Commentary – Krokidas, Radcliffe, DeHaan, and co-writer Austin Bunn appear on this feature-length audio commentary, delving into the intricacies of the production, the film’s major themes and influences, and more.
- In Conversation with Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan – At just over 6 minutes in length, this is a fun yet brief Q&A with the film’s two lead actors.
- Q&A with Director/Co-Writer John Krokidas and Co-Writer Austin Bunn – This Q&A, however, is plenty long, running at 1 hour and 5 minutes. Krokidas and Bunn get into the nitty gritty of the picture, and it’s a fascinating watch for those looking for more insight.
- Deleted Scenes – Seven deleted scenes in all. The highlight is more from Huston and Olsen’s characters, though one can see why their roles were slightly reduced. There are also snippets in which Ginsberg’s sexuality is dealt with in a more up-front manner at the beginning of the film.
- On the Red Carpet at the Toronto Film Festival – Short red carpet interviews with the cast, as well as Krokidas’ introduction before the screening of the film. Nearly 7 minutes and 30 seconds total.