One would think that having three browsers open the minute that TIFF tickets went on sale would have secured me a better spot for the national premiere of John Krokidas’ highly anticipated directorial debut, Kill Your Darlings. Alas, I had no such luck. After waiting by my Macbook for an hour and a half and entertaining doubts, I couldn’t believe it when I was finally able to purchase my ticket.
After the hardships I had endured, I was ready to take the TIFF organizers to the guillotine. Luckily for them, my anger dissipated when I arrived in Toronto late that steamy Tuesday night, but early enough to catch the all-star cast of Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, Ben Foster, and Jack Huston walk the red carpet. To my great bereavement, Elizabeth Olsen was absent from the proceedings.
As someone who’s had a Google Alert set up for this film since 2011, I was thrilled to finally take it in. The plot revolves around the troubling 1944 murder of David Kammerer at the hands of Lucien Carr, which set some of the most polarizing writers of the 20th century – like Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac – together on the path to literary success as the Beat Generation.
Looking to further distance himself from being typecast as Harry Potter, Radcliffe showcases his delightful acting chops in the lead role of eccentric poet Allen Ginsberg. We follow him to Columbia University where he is promptly entranced by Lucien Carr’s egotistical rants about a new form of expression that he dubs the “new vision”, subtly playing on a Yeats’ work. Dane DeHaan contributes a stunning portrayal of Carr, aided by his uncanny resemblance to the man in his youth. Although he’s a brilliant intellectual, we quickly find that Carr has a vice he cannot shake in the form of David Kammerer (played by a grim Michael C. Hall) — a predatory older man who is infatuated with “Lou” to the degree that would now be considered stalking. Krokidas adroitly grapples with the tension that arises when a stranger threatens to undermine the work that the young writers are putting in to hone their craft. In some cases, “work” can mean taking any number of drugs, of which William Burroughs remains the connoisseur. Ben Foster is riveting in his appearance as the Naked Lunch author, nailing the lazy drawl of the St. Louis-born novelist, while Huston is relatively one-dimensional as Kerouac, failing to show the tenderhearted side of the On The Road author.
My one gripe about the film is how it skirts around Kammerer’s obsessive relationship with Carr at times to glamourize the length that the Beats went to for kicks. While scenes where Ginsberg & Co. replace Beowulf, Columbia library with restricted books depicting erotic acts are entertaining, one wishes that Krokidas had delved further into the darkness of the crime, similar to Bennett Miller’s work with Capote rather than sensationalizing the Beats’ antics. That said, the film will be well worth the price of admission once it enjoys a wider release.