Sundance Film Festival review: Kill Your Darlings - Daniel Radcliffe provides a defining performance as Beat poet Allen Ginsberg

The man we know as Harry Potter bumbles with his sexuality as well as his famous spectacles

Emma Jones
Saturday 19 January 2013 13:38 GMT
Daniel Radcliffe, left, as Allen Ginsberg and Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr
Daniel Radcliffe, left, as Allen Ginsberg and Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr (AP)

Killing Your Darlings - a literary device of erasing the characters you are fondest of in order to progress your work - is something Daniel Radcliffe is proving adept at. First, the play Equus, then The Woman in Black. Now he's Allen Ginsberg in John Krokidas's feature film debut Kill Your Darlings - another stab in the back for Harry Potter- even if Ginsberg too blinks through round glasses.

Krokidas's story is based on a true event from 1944, when the future Beat greats - Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Lucien Carr were at Columbia university. Carr was sentenced to two years for the manslaughter of another man, David Kammerer (played here by Dexter's Michael C Hall). Carr claimed he was defending himself against unwanted sexual advances; both Kerouac and Burroughs were accused initially of being accessories to murder.

Yet the killing is less the focus of the film than the darlings themselves. This group come of age with bored joy. Even attempted suicide is done with languid exploration - which seems like a luxury when their contemporaries are being blown up daily in France. The Beat boys, like a nihilistic Dead Poets Society, only wage war against their tutors.

America's most awarded 20th century poet has been portrayed before - most notably, recently, by James Franco in Howl - but Radcliffe provides a defining performance. He is simply terrific as the 18-year-old Ginsberg, fumbling with his sexuality as well as his spectacles, and entirely in the thrall of his friend, fellow writer Lucien Carr. Lawless actor Dane De Haan makes him part Talented Mr Ripley, part Brideshead's Sebasian Flyte, and under his tutelage, Ginsberg goes from nice Jewish boy to college drop out, wild-eyed on narcotics and drunk with his emerging talent.

Kill Your Darlings was made for a fraction of Walter Salles's On the Road yet still exudes the same sultry lure and irresistable appeal of youth. Yet, here, the self-proclaimed brilliance of the Beat generation is stained by a shabby killing. Allen Ginsberg - the only one not implicated - has come of age by the end of the movie. And so, Daniel Radcliffe, have you.

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