“Kill Your Darlings” could use some of the focus that one of its main characters, Lucien Carr, brought to his nearly five-decade career as a news editor. As it is, the feature-length debut by director John Krokidas wanders through the stories surrounding Carr and his early relationships with Beat Generation writers Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac and dabbles in pointless anachronism, muddying the fascinating crime story at its center.
Those early days in which “Lou was the glue,” as Ginsberg wrote, for the East Coast Beats are too dense to be chronicled in 100 minutes, but Krokidas and co-writer Austin Bunn try their best to shoehorn the entire foundation of the movement into “Kill Your Darlings.” By doing so, it glosses the strange case of David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), the peripheral figure who stalked Carr (Dane DeHaan) obsessively, ultimately leading to a 1944 confrontation in Riverside Park and Kammerer's death.
The long, strange saga of Kammerer's obsession lasted for five years, but that barely comes to light in the final act as it is filtered through the interpretation of Ginsberg, played by Daniel Radcliffe. It's an unfortunate storytelling decision: by digressing into lengthy, been-there-read-that depictions of Burroughs (Ben Foster), Kerouac (Jack Huston of “Boardwalk Empire”) and Ginsberg, the lesser-known but fascinating story of Carr gets shortchanged.
DeHaan is particularly good as Carr and Foster does a mean Burroughs impersonation, but Radcliffe never fully inhabits Ginsberg or makes the viewer feel the depths of his genius. Throw in some oddball soundtrack decisions (TV On the Radio songs in 1944?), and “Kill Your Darlings” feels like Krokidas is thumbing his nose at structure — something the Beats did, too, but far more artfully.
— George Lang