TORONTO -- On Tuesday evening I caught the Toronto International Film Festival's first screening of Kill Your Darlings, a film co-written and directed by John Krokidas that focuses on the most iconic writers of the Beat Generation -- Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), Jack Kerouac (Boardwalk Empire's Jack Huston), William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster) -- in the early 1940s, before they became famous, when Lucien Carr (fast-rising Dane DeHaan), a young associate of theirs, murdered David Kammerer (Dexter's Michael C. Hall), a former lover of his. The film, which premiered at Sundance and also played at Venice, received a warm reception here and will be released by Sony Pictures Classics in select cities starting Oct. 16.
The film's title is a smart marketing ploy, intended to evoke visions of an action-thriller, but is actually derived from a piece of writing advice attributed to William Faulkner. The film does feature a murder, but the vast majority of it involves dialog character development. It shows us the troubled home life that Ginsberg left behind (David Cross and Jennifer Jason Leigh play his parents) to attend Columbia University, whereupon he met Carr and Carr's friends (Elizabeth Olsen plays Kerouac's wife), abused drugs, experienced a (homo-)sexual awakening and basically became the person and writer that the world would come to know and admire in later years: a guy who aimed, through any means necessary, to overturn the existing order and introduce new and more truthful ways of looking at the world.
Krokidas has made a feature writing and directing debut that is certainly noteworthy, not least for attracting such an impressive cast. Radcliffe and DeHaan deserve special mention for clearly investing a great deal of heart in their performances, which really shows. My hunch, though, is that the film will meet a critical, commercial and awards fate similar to that of On the Road, a film that premiered at TIFF last year and deals with some of the same characters and subject matter: nice enough reviews, relatively little box-office and no Oscar nominations. It's just not the Academy's cup of tea.