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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 15 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 46
Howl? More like a whimper - Emotionally muted Darlings is lethally frustrating
Arts & Entertainment
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Howl? More like a whimper - Emotionally muted Darlings is lethally frustrating

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

KILL YOUR DARLINGS
Opens November 15


Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) has come to Columbia University looking to shake up literature; he's just not sure how he's going to do it. He's immediately intrigued when he meets wildcard student Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), the fellow intellectual revolutionary spouting ideas and sporting ideals he instantly responds to. He opens Ginsberg's eyes to a world he'd heretofore never explored, introducing him to the likes of equally esoteric wordsmith philosophers William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster), David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) in the process.

Thus begins co-writer and director John Krokidas' Kill Your Darlings, a movie taking a bird's-eye look at Ginsberg's early relationships, the beginning of what would be known as the Beat Generation, and the conflicts, maybe chaos, that would go on to influence the writer's life and subsequent works. Most notably, it focuses most intently on the author's interactions with Carr, the man he would dedicate his signature achievement Howl to, and how the young man's bizarre entanglement with Kammerer would lead to unspeakable tragedy.

Fine. Good. Sounds interesting. Problem is, it isn't, at least not for the film's entire running time, Krokidas and fellow writer Austin Bunn having a damnable time maintaining their focus or keeping a consistent point of view. While I get that they're trying to emulate in some way the feel, the vitality, the unhinged anything-goes sensibility of the writer at the center of their drama, latching on and caring about what is going on as far as Ginsberg, Carr, and all the rest are concerned is impossible. The movie is all over the map and never as clear as it needs to be, lessening the emotional impact of the tragedy to come and making a mess of all it is trying to say and everything it hopes to explain.

CAST NOT AT FAULT
Not that the actors don't give it their best shot. Former boy wizard Radcliffe is surprisingly strong, his Ginsberg a singular animal learning to make his way in the world navigating pathways and ideologies he's hesitant to embrace. His sexual awakening is handled with dynamic flair, the level of carnal restraint creating an air of heated sensuality one is almost afraid to see come to a boil. The actor dives into his performance, and while I wouldn't put it on the same lofty plateau as, say, James Franco's work in Howl, the fact he even comes close to achieving the same level of introspective eloquence is a gigantic statement in and of itself.

The rest of the cast is almost equally solid, although it goes without saying they don't have near as much to work with as Radcliffe does. Still, DeHaan shows once again why he's considered one of the most gifted actors of his generation while Hall does more with less than just about anyone, the pair sharing moments and sequences that held me in spellbound rapture. Foster and Huston do what they can but in actuality the movie treats them like little more than window dressing, their involvement in the affair important, yes, even if their impact on the story itself and the drama that ensues is sadly negligible.

If only I felt Krokidas and Bunn had control of their narrative. They throw pieces in willy-nilly, not giving them the context they need in order to resonate as they should. More, there is an odd disconnect between the events being depicted and the impact they end up having on Ginsberg as a writer, his climactic epiphany not having the weight or the meaning it desperately longs for. Kill Your Darlings is weirdly aloof at the most inopportune of moments, making the whole thing an emotionally muted frustration that for whatever reason refuses to come alive as it should for the majority of its briskly paced 104 minutes.

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