Daniel Radcliffe, playing the young Allen Ginsberg in “Kill Your Darlings,” wonderfully captures a particular moment in a young person’s life. Allen, who’s spent his life in New Jersey with his poet father (David Cross) and mentally ill mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh), has long dreamed of New York — of the freedom and sweep of a big city, where he can happily disappear. We see him arriving on the campus of Columbia University and he’s nearly speechless with the excitement of starting anew; his whole body seems aquiver. Moments later, on a library tour, fellow student Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) acts up with the intention of shocking visitors, and Allen is thrilled; he’s finally able to cast aside the dutiful-son persona (just as Radcliffe, within Allen, has a persona he’s ready to toss aside), and life suddenly seems full of endless, reckless possibility.
It’s a promising beginning, for a movie that too soon gets muddled; writer/director John Krokidas — whose film looks appealingly faded, as if stored away — doesn’t seem sure where he wants “Kill Your Darlings” to focus. Ostensibly, it’s the based-on-fact story of Lucien and David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall, of TV’s “Dexter” and “Six Feet Under”), an older man who’s followed Lucien to New York and resents his friendship with Allen. All ends tragically, but not before we’ve wandered in and out of Allen’s home life, his writing ambitions, Jack Kerouac’s (Jack Huston) romantic problems, William Burroughs’ (Ben Foster) penchant for lying in bathtubs, and too many parties and nightclubs. There are some nicely staged sequences — such as one in which Allen, Lucien and William plot to display “obscene” materials at the Columbia library — but overall the movie seems to wander, like the worst excesses of free verse, needing a little structure to rein it in.
But it’s enjoyable to watch Radcliffe feeling his way into his role (despite the glasses, there’s no trace of Harry Potter here), and to sense the electric sensuality of DeHaan’s icily blue-eyed Lucien, and to hear Hall’s wonderfully low, louche purr of a voice. There’s plenty of talent on display in “Kill Your Darlings,” but it isn’t quite harnessed; it’s the story of the birth of a writer that lets the writer get a little lost in the crowd.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org