Daniel Radcliffe takes on the role of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in the true-life murder tale “Kill Your Darlings,” and critics are hailing the former “Harry Potter” star for turning his back on the world of wizards.
The film finds the former child actor discovering the twin joys of gay sex and free verse, while falling for Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a fellow Columbia University student with a manipulative streak. Together, they plot their poetic revolution in West Side bars alongside Jack Kerouac (Jack Houston) and William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster), before their youthful rebellion takes a dark turn.
Reviews for the indie production have been strong, with “Kill Your Darlings” earning a 78 percent “fresh” rating on critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. It opened Wednesday.
In TheWrap, Alonso Duralde found “Kill Your Darlings” to be the rare film that finds a way to make the act of writing cinematic. He was full of praise for Radcliffe’s edgy work — noting that the sex scenes may make headlines, but his performance deserves attention for more than just how effectively he simulates sodomy.
“Coming off his acclaimed stage work and his haunted turn in ‘The Woman in Black,’ Radcliffe continues to flex new muscles as an actor, proving once again he’s got a decent shot at not being defined as a certain boy wizard for the rest of his career,” Duralde wrote. “His Ginsberg is, in turn, guileless and impassioned and torn and heartbroken, and it’s a captivating performance; yes, he does have a fairly explicit sex scene with another man, but to make that the focal point of his audacious work here would be reductive, to say the least.”
Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum praised Radcliffe’s acting chops and director John Krokidas’ depiction of a burgeoning artistic movement.
“The movie — stylish-looking on a shoestring budget — makes fab use of music, from ‘Lili Marlene’ to TV On the Radio,” Schwarzbaum wrote. “And Radcliffe — hair permed into Ginsbergy college curls, full of vitality — holds the emotional center as a young artist in art and in life.”
It works because you believe the attraction between Ginsberg and Carr, raved Film.com’s Jordan Hoffman.
“I really can’t say enough good things about Radcliffe and DeHaan,” Hoffman wrote. “There is a chemistry between the two of them that is more than just sexual. DeHaan’s Bowie-esque stare would have set the Warhol factory ablaze, and Radcliffe’s developed a strong sense of confidence.”
Despite economic limitations, the New York Times’ A.O. Scott commended the film for deftly capturing an inflection point in the country’s literary evolution while matching that artistic awakening to Ginsburg’s own sexual discovery.
“Allen’s triumph seems like a foregone conclusion: We know who he was, what he became, and how the world changed around him,” Scott wrote. “But in 1944, all of that was far from self-evident, and the risks were enormous and terrifying. The achievement of ‘Kill Your Darlings’ is to give a modern audience a taste of that terror, and also of the thrill and intoxication that went along with it.”
While many critics commended Radcliffe’s channeling of Ginsberg’s passion and particularities, Betsy Sharkey wrote in the Los Angeles Times that the English star is fundamentally miscast as the New Jersey iconoclast.
“There are no traces of Harry to be found; the actor demonstrates he can do more than battle Voldemort,” Sharkey wrote. “But Ginsberg’s arc of devoted son dealing with a mentally unbalanced mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and a failed poet (David Cross) of a father feels distracting, rather than defining. And his emerging sexuality is strangely proper.”
Rex Reed agreed that Radcliffe’s performance was a slice of stunt casting, but in a pan in the New York Observer he indicated that the Beats themselves were unworthy of canonization.
“Nothing in 2013 could be more dated than Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and their close-knit circle of literary wackos that called themselves the Beat Generation back in the 1950s, but there’s always a new gang of rebels without a cause to make movies about them that nobody wants to see,” Reed wrote.
Guess he didn’t care for “On the Road.”