Fresh magic gets cast by Daniel Radcliffe

Cert 12A | By Alex Dymoke
Four Stars

KILL Your Darlings revels in the cliché-saturated aesthetic of the Beats – think fusty professors, impromptu poetry recitations and furious typewriting in smoke-fugged Columbia dorm rooms – but admirably avoids hero-worship. Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), Jack Kerouac and co are presented not as self-possessed future greats, but as anxious young things lunging for a foothold in adult life as much as they are kicking against it.

Ginsberg’s incipient genius isn’t flaunted; he’s nervous, artistically constipated, lacking in any momentum of his own. The few poems he does produce are washed up in the wake of Lucien Carr (Dane Dehaan), a latter-day Sebastian Flyte, impossibly elegant and full of intoxicating ideas about the coming literary revolution. Carr proposes a “New Vision”, a freer form of writing less indebted to the highly structured Victorian literature pressed upon them by their university teachers. As Ginsberg’s infatuation takes hold, it becomes clear that for all his erudition, Carr lacks the literary skills to make his vision a reality. That task is left to Ginsberg and Kerouac.

The inherent drama of the Beats’ creative rebellion runs alongside a less abstract concern in Carr’s private life; David Kammerer, an obsessive former lover has followed him across the country to New York City. Carr and Kammerer’s involvement has a catastrophic conclusion that puts all the talk of poetry into perspective. The balance between the two strands of the story, though, isn’t quite right, with all of the best exchanges taking place between Radcliffe’s Ginsberg and Dehaan’s Carr. This is partly because Radcliffe is so good. All his worst qualities as an actor find a happy home in the young Allen Ginsberg. Ever since he arrived at the gates of Hogwarts, he’s never quite managed to shed the demeanour of the fresher, the unlikely child-star who can’t quite believe he’s arrived, be it in wizard school or Hollywood. This wide-eyed quality suits him in Kill Your Darlings as he hops nervously from intellectual epiphany to sexual awakening.