Kill Your Darlings

Kill Your Darlings
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Director: John Krokidas
Cert: 16
Genre: <genre>
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Ben Foster, Jack Huston, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Running Time: 1 hr 44 mins

Or The Muppet Babies Do the Beats.

No, that's not fair. There is a great deal to admire in this treatment of a notorious incident from the early lives of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S Burroughs and others among (to quote a later writer) the Whole Sick Crew. The period detail is layered on with love. All the performances are strong. We get to see a young Burroughs look sheepish and call his father "sir".

Still, Kill Your Darlings really does depend upon you buying the myth wholesale. The minute you question the worth of the published material – and who now doesn't feel a little uneasy about Kerouac's self-regarding drone? – you begin to wonder why we should indulge these young men their silly pretensions and their apparent disregard for women.

For the most part, however, writer and director John Krokidas gets away with his bebop variations. It helps that the action is seen through the eyes of Ginsberg, the most likable of the gang, and that Daniel Radcliffe, in his best performance to date, brings such charm and vulnerability to the role.


We begin with the young poet leaving New Jersey for the hallowed halls of Columbia University. He is quickly inducted into a society of bohemians comprising Kerouac (Jack Huston), Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan). An older man has been stalking Carr, and that situation eventually leads to blood, chaos and scandal.

Playing Burroughs is a little like playing Winston Churchill – absurd voice, familiar props, extreme manner – and Foster doesn't waste the opportunity to have fun with a younger incarnation. Huston supposes that Kerouac already fully inhabited his skin by the war years. DeHaan makes an elegant fop of the lesser-known Carr.

Significantly livelier than Walter Salles's recent adaptation of On the Road, Kill Your Darlings (whose title is just a little too on the nose) offers amusing commentaries on exhaustingly familiar personalities. If you didn't care about the Beats before, the film is unlikely to jiggle your boat. If you have even the mildest interest, it will pass the time well enough.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist