Niagara Gazette

January 14, 2014

CALLERI: Murder among the Beats, and the best films of 2013

By Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — In “Kill Your Darlings,” Daniel Radcliffe attempts to throw off the mantle of Harry Potter and succeeds, proving that he has immense talent.

However, and this is not negative criticism, I think his future lies in being a character actor, for which there is a great need, not a leading man. He’s slight, offbeat looking (but in a good way), and too quirky of voice to settle into starring roles in today’s summer action movies. As if to prove me correct, his next major part will be as the laboratory assistant Igor in the upcoming version of “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.”

“Kill Your Darlings” is a beautifully crafted ensemble piece, and Radcliffe fits in perfectly. The movie is about a real-life murder that involved Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac, three hallowed writers of the Beat Generation. The film looks at them before the vast notoriety that enveloped the trio in the 1950s. It captures nicely the look of the era with fine production values and superior cinematography by Reed Morano.

The movie is the first feature from director John Krokidas, and he succeeds mightily with his understanding of the main characters. He presents them as living and breathing people, not icons to be worshiped, something that has eluded others who have tried to bottle the spirit of the Beats on the screen. The recent sluggish “On The Road” being just one of many failed examples. Krokidas’s approach is energizing.

In the 1940s, a shy, awkward and sexually unaware Ginsberg, who would eventually achieve monumental fame with his poem “Howl,” is attending Manhattan’s Columbia University, having arrived from his Paterson, New Jersey home and the watchful eyes of his poet father (David Cross) and mentally unstable mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Radcliffe plays Ginsberg.

Young Allen knows that he wants to write and that he finds men more interesting than women. Aside from sly digs at Ogden Nash, the most popular American poet of the day, and a willingness to get into spirited discussions with a college literary professor (John Cullum), he’s a bit unsteady intellectually and sexually as he relishes his personal freedom.

Unsteady that is until he falls under the spell of Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a free-spirited student who is a tease to both men and women; a drinker, a smoker and a fellow for whom great poetry is about William Blake, music is about jazz, and decorous college settings need to be disrupted. Carr knows the seedy dives to visit, and he knows the dirt to dish about everyone. He’s Shakespeare’s Puck and Jean Genet’s Querelle rolled into one. Ginsberg falls in love with him immediately, but Carr, a user of people, sees sex as manipulation, something more important to him than commitment and loyalty. With a former teacher of his (Michael C. Hall), Carr plays a dangerous game, one of obsession and denial that will result in murder and a verdict required by the standards of the times.

Included in this mix is the happy-go-lucky Kerouac (Jack Huston) with his robust and alluring personality, imagination, and talents with multiple women. He’s joined by the very wealthy Burroughs (Ben Foster), who, thanks to his family’s adding machine fortune, enjoys the means to experiment with various drugs. Elizabeth Olsen is Kerouac’s annoyed girlfriend. The four young men, Ginsberg, Carr, Kerouac and Burroughs conspire to fight the limitations of an era.

Through it all, thanks to a strong, multi-layered screenplay by Krokidas and Austin Bunn, the well-acted movie never loses sight of the fact that it’s about social awareness and self-discovery. Ginsberg’s evolving maturity and complex passion forces him to examine Carr’s dishonesty and come to terms with his own sexual desires.

Radcliffe never falters in presenting his character’s intellectual and erotic growth. The actor’s talent rings true.

•••

I’m not a huge fan of making a year-end list of top ten movies. I don’t mind making the list, but I prefer that it not be restricted to a specific number. It’s always difficult winnowing down titles to the required 10 films. To choose a favorite movie over the others is even more difficult. I’m a member of the Indiewire Critics Group, which requires a limit of 10 titles, a task made more difficult by the fact that I had to vote without having seen “The Wolf Of Wall Street.” My choices here reflect more accurately my favorites for 2013. So, in alphabetical order, here’s my list of 15 films I saw that earned the honor of being the best of a very interesting year:

• “American Hustle”

• “Before Midnight”

• “Blue Is The Warmest Color”

• “Blue Jasmine”

• “Enough Said”

• “Escape From Tomorrow”

• “Fruitvale Station”

• “Haute Cuisine”

• “Inside Llewyn Davis”

• “Kill Your Darlings”

• “Nebraska”

• “The Great Beauty”

• “The Place Beyond The Pines”

• “The Wolf Of Wall Street”

• “Unfinished Song.”

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at moviecolumn@outlook.com.