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Kill Your Darlings movie review

September 11th, 2013 · 21 Comments · Kerouac and The Beats, Movies


Allen & Lucien — I mean, Radcliffe & DeHaan — sharing a laugh at the premiere gala at TIFF, next to Michael C. Hall (Kammerer) and Jack Huston (Kerouac).


Just home from “Kill Your Darlings” — the second of three movies based on Jack & the Beats being released within a few months of each other in this 2000-and-lucky-13.

The following goes into a lot of detail about the film.  Even though the storyline is not a mystery, if you want to keep the film a mystery for yourself, you should skip this.  On the other hand, there’s a lot of cool chit that’ll enhance your experience — or at least let you know what you’re in for.

This may be complicated — but to quote a memorable line from the movie: “I love complicated.”

The Setting:
The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) — at the festival and the city’s premier venue, Roy Thompson Hall — a high-end 2,000-seat symphonic concert hall.

The deal with having your film at this schmacy space, I found out, is that it has to be sponsored.  Mega-corps like (in this case) Audi, Visa & a corporate law firm, buy the venue including renting secondary rooms for VIP/client schmoozes — in fact, with full china sit-down table settings pre and post film for the suits ‘n’ manicures set.

Turns out — the only seats sold to the public are the balcony — in which I of course score front row.

So … playing in this huge ritzy showplace is a Beat movie about people who couldn’t afford a small bag of ($5) popcorn in the joint. And speaking of joints, it was a buzz to smell the righteous Canadian sweetleaf being sparked up as soon as the lights went out!

I talked to lots of people in line and in the theater and couldn’t find a single person coming because it was a Beat story — it was basically all Radcliffe fans — bringing serious flashbacks of the people swarming the On The Road premiere at TIFF a year ago this week for Kristen Stewart.

If they weren’t there for Radcliffe, most seemed to have come for some completely random reason, like they got a free ticket or it was the only movie they could get a ticket for.

And also bizarrely similar to OTR, the line-up outside was about a 70-30 majority of women over men.  Seems weird — but this was true of both these films’ premieres at TIFF, and the London premiere of OTR.  Except in this case, of the 30% who were male, about two-thirds were gay couples.  Apparently this movie is sorta big in the gay community — it has gay main characters, a gay director and screenwriter, male movie stars kissing each other, and a naked gay sex scene.
So, there’s that.

Outside it was the now-modern-classic image of all these people standing in line with their heads down typing on their phones.  I spotted four different people reading books — none of which were Beat related.  One guy wrote a paper last year on Burroughs, and one girl heard about the Beats in her English course at the U of T, but those are the closest connects I found in talking to a score or more of people.

The movie is an Allen’s-eye-view of meeting Lucien and discovering New York and his own identity.  It’s so crazy sad that he couldn’t live to see this or Walter Salles’s On The Road.  He would have loved both of them.  At least he’s giggling safe in heaven’s theater.

This is not really a movie about the murder (as portrayed in the trailers and ads) — it’s the story of Allen growing from an insecure recent high school grad through his journey to college and writerhood.

I haven’t seen Big Sur, the third film in this 2013 trilogy of Beat dramatizations, but this does make for many interesting harmonics with On The Road.  There’s the jazz club scene, the benzedrine scene, the small bohemian apartment scenes, the gay sex scene, the wild young buddies getting blissfully drunk together scene — many of the same adventures, but set a few years earlier in the same 1940s Manhattan — with Lucien in the role of Neal Cassady.

In Jack’s epic Duluoz Legend, this would come just before Road.  (For the complete list of films chronicling The Duluoz Legend by date, see the Beat Movie Guide or the box at end.)

One difference between the two films:  you should definitely experience On The Road on the big screen — for which both the auteur’s vision and the cinematographer’s lensing were very much designed.  Kill Your Darlings could probably be just as well experienced on any home screen.  Maybe this has to do with it being made by a first-time director and/or someone who grew up watching and living with smaller screens versus a director who’s made 20 films and has a big landscape vision, both for the screen and life.

Also like On The Road, this features tons of high-end actors in a low budget indi film — because most of them were fans of the subject, as were the screenwriter, director, and production and costume designers — Beat fans all.  In fact, Michael C. Hall, famous as the eponymous lead in Showtime’s “Dexter,” who here plays the doomed David Kammerer, met Allen a couple times (being the oldest of the young gang of actors) and confessed to being awe-struck by the gentle living legend.

And that’s this generational transference that’s never stopped happening with the Beats.  The screenwriter and director were college roommates 10 years ago when they were inspired by these writers and first hatched the idea as a theatrical play.  And the TIFF Grand Pooh-bah introducing the film called the Beat Gen “the most pivotal artistic movement of the 20th century.”
So, there’s that, too.

And you should know this was a no-budget movie. It got made on less than a shoestring, shot entirely in 3 weeks, all on location (mostly upper Manhattan), and all on film (not digital – so I guess that’s where whatever money went). DeHaan and Radcliffe managed to squeeze in a total of 5 days of rehearsal beforehand.

The film does succeed in taking you back to New York circa the late war years, including a great soundtrack with “Sunny Side Of The Street” and lots of others.  And there’s a cool use of a period Manhattan subway map to take the viewer around town.

Besides the overall capturing of the Beat milieu, this is also a classic bad-boy buddy-picture that fits comfortably in the same pranksterish cinematic school as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Blues Brothers and Rumble Fish.  And that it was made by two real-life college buddies, about real-life college buddies, makes it all the more resonant and cool.

It also quite candidly and bravely explores a not-long-ago time when “hymies” and “queers” were routinely and acceptably stigmatized.  The way the film deals with these terms and sentiments so casually yet impactfully is one of its real strengths.

And this Dane DeHaan who plays Lucien!  Meet your new movie star!  This guy has the charisma, looks, chops, brains (as revealed in interviews) and screen-presence of someone we’re gonna be seeing a lot of in the future.

Lucien was the New York catalytic Cassady, the guy who sparked the fire, who had the mind that could hold the attention and confidence of a some pretty smart and challenging writers.  And DeHaan’s performance would make me follow this guy anywhere.

And Radcliffe . . . it’s so reminiscent of On The Road with this HUUGGEE megastar in the movie.  Most of the public who paid to come, came for him; most of the fans at the red carpet were there for him; … and would the sponsors be throwing this gala if it wasn’t him in the role?

One interesting thing about this kid, I mean this versatile young actor, is something he confessed in an interview when the film was premiering at Sundance — “I’m in a very fortunate position where I don’t have to be on a set where I’m not completely enthused and passionate about what I’m doing.  I can be selective enough that I only do things that I really believe in and think can be something special.”

And another interesting note – his acting career is based on playing a famous literary character — not some Home Alone kid or something — and one of the first roles he takes after that is to play another famous literary character.  And Allen Ginsberg was quite the character!

I don’t know if I’ve watched 10 minutes of all nine Harry Potter movies combined.  Maybe others will, but I did not see the actor.  I saw the character.  To me he was a very believable Allen — frantic, frenetic, passionate, crazy, insecure, heart-broken, eager, curious, challenging.  And not fer nuthin but Allen has sure gotten some great portrayals lately — James Franco, Tom Sturridge, and now Daniel Radcliffe.  Two of whom are British!  Go figure.

And Burroughs is just doppelganger dandy!  First in the “trilogy” Wild Bill was personified brilliantly by Viggo Mortensen, and now here by Ben Foster, who (like Viggo) was a big Burroughs fan before he got offered the role.  When the director first called him about maybe being involved, he answered the phone as Bill.  And he pulls off the blinking, shifty eye movements and lip twitching to a T.

And then there’s Jack.  Who, if you’re a fan of, is A) kind of written out of the story, and B) looks the least like, is played the least well, and has the least lines of any of the principals.  What’s up with that?  I have yet to see a cinematic portrayal of Jack that comports with the visual, audio and written accounts of the man.  He had “classic” good looks — and was just about the only writer in history that a Jon Hamm or Rob Lowe or any of a million handsome up-and-comers could play and it wouldn’t be unrealistic.  His wife Edie and others who knew him then summed him up simply with, “He was movie star handsome” — as any of his mid-40s thru mid-50s photographs attest.  It’s weird and sad to think one may have to go back to John Heard in 1980’s “Heart Beat” for the closest thing to Jack on screen.

Even though this film was cooked up and populated by 20-somethings, it also has respected veteran actors like Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyra Sedgwick and John Cullum joining this very independent unglorified college-film.

That Allen’s parents are played magnificently by Leigh and David Cross (who recently played Allen circa 1965 in the surreal Dylan film “I’m Not There“) shows the depth of casting, and the commitment to Allen and his story.  Leigh, who to these eyes has never been less than mesmerizing in any role she’s taken, is yet again in a class of her own here as the Kaddish Queen.

Then there’s the story

We already have Jack’s version of the events leading up to and following the Kammerer murder — 3 times! — The Town & the City, Vanity of Duluoz, and And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks.

We have Burroughs’ version in his chapters from Hippos.

We have Edie Kerouac’s wonderful telling — the most flushed out of any of them, spanning nearly a hundred pages — in her “You’ll Be Okay” posthumous autobiography.

And now we have this film of Allen’s version — drawing from his posthumous “The Book of Martyrdom and Artifice.”

In other words — we have many different first-hand accounts of the meeting of these minds and the unexpected extreme event that occurred in their midst.  Ya gotta just be happy that at least one of them ever got made into a full-length motion picture.

The problem is — telling the Kammerer murder story from Allen’s point of view is sort of like telling On The Road from William Burroughs’s.  Allen was the least involved and the last to find out.  That this key moment in the birth of the Beat Generation should be portrayed as a trio that does not really involve Jack Kerouac is like making a movie about the birth of America without Thomas Jefferson.

Then there’s just so much they got factually wrong, at least compared to every account I’ve ever read — and they’ve been working on this thing for ten years.
In just this one viewing I noticed …
They have Lucien going to see Jack first after the murder, and then Bill, when it was kind of importantly the other way around (!)
That Lucien had a steady and traffic-stoppingly gorgeous girlfriend at the time, and that the two of them along with Jack & Edie were a regular dating foursome, and that these two robo-babes were living in the same apartment together while going out these two uber-dudes — who were the central ones involved — is completely absent.
And according to Jack, Lucien kept saying to him, “I’ll get the hot seat for this.” But in the script he says, “I’ll go to jail for the rest of my life.”  This may seem small, but since Jack was the only one there to hear it, and reported it differently, repeatedly, and that the real line is so much more impactful and distressing, not to mention historically significant as he’s referring to the famous “Old Sparky” electric chair in Sing Sing just up the Hudson that was still in use at the time — how after ten years of rewrites would you not have this right?
Or they have Jack phoning his dad for bail money, and the character asks for $5,000 — not the $100 Jack actually asked for and needed (as documented in every account of his incarceration, including his own).  And since his dad famously turns him down … $100 (the real amount) would have been so much more dramatic and to the point.
Or how they have Burroughs happily doing cut-ups more than a decade before scissors were ever a gleam in his eye.
Or, startling to any New Yorker … they portray the Hudson River shoreline in Riverside Park … as a sandy beach fer chrissake!

I’m no Allen scholar, but it sure makes you wonder how much about him they got wrong as well.

Then there’s my biggest beef by far — that Frankie Edie Kerouac Parker is portrayed as a shrew.  This is so wrong, on so many levels.  Edie was the catalyst, and for sure the coolest, most fun, most go-along simpatico chick Jack (and maybe any of them) ever hooked up with.  Edie “got it.”  Big time.  Her apartment was the center of the gang’s activity — when not at their neighborhood clubhouse, the West End Bar.  And she was cool with that.  In fact, the crazy messy endless party scene bothered Jack more than her.  She was the one who created it, and more often than not was the only one paying for it and anything else.

It was Edie who first met Lucien in her evening Columbia art class and introduced him to her boyfriend Jack — which led to Jack meeting both the movie’s protagonist Ginsberg, as well as Burroughs.  It was Edie who made that pivotal connection — cuz she dug both these smart, wild-eyed happening guys.  Not to mention that Burroughs met and then married her next cool apartment-mate Joan.

And if you don’t know, since the filmmakers didn’t seem to, Edie at the time was this gregarious buxom blond knockout who was always having a good time and attracting attention wherever she went.  Jack described her as looking like Mamie van Doren.  That she’s written and portrayed so completely 180 degrees opposite of who she was, really brings into doubt the integrity of this entire endeavor.

Then there are all these disconcerting overt implications — that Allen’s dad sent his mom to the insane asylum so he could have an affair;  that Lucien was the one who first said, “First thought, best thought;”  that Kammerer verbally asked to be stabbed and killed.  When you think of the obvious well-known facts they got wrong … that they’re committing these implications to celluloid is something of a crime against real people’s reputations.  I mean, the movie’s being sold as “A TRUE STORY!”

But in the end … the loving movie they made is an energetic passionate creative youthful super-college-film.  Good for them for sticking with it and making it happen.  What a dream-come-true for these young Beats to see this showcased at Sundance, TIFF and Venice.  And they definitely captured Allen’s ride … with his parents, in his classrooms, with his friends, losing his virginity … and I assume most Allen fans are gonna love this.

But after it was over, some guy outside on a phone was telling his friend — “It was Harry Potter in a weird gay porn movie.”

Which may sum it up for the unBeat masses better than I ever could.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Kill Your Darlings” opens in limited theatrical release in the U.S. starting Friday Oct. 18th, 2013.


The Duluoz Legend sequence of films (so far) would be:

Kill Your Darlings — set in 1944  (released 2013)
The Last Time I Committed Suicide — set in 1945  (released 1997)
Heart Beat — set in 1946-66  (released 1980)
On The Road — set in 1947-49  (released 2013)
Beat — set in 1951  (released 2000)
Pull My Daisy — set in 1955  (released 1959)
Big Sur — set in 1960   (released 2013)

For a full Beat Movie Guide to all the dramatizations check my summery with links at — The Beat Movie Guide.


How they all met (in 1944) —

Lucien — knew Kammerer and Burroughs from St. Louis;  met Jack thru Edie, who he met at an evening art class at Columbia that they both took;  he met Allen when they were both freshmen living across the hall from each other in the dorms at Columbia.

Jack — met Lucien thru Edie;  then via the Lucien revolution he met Allen, Burroughs & Kammerer.

Allen — met Lucien living across the hall from him at Columbia dorm;  thru Lucien met Jack, Burroughs, Kammerer.

Burroughs — vaguely knew Lucien from St. Louis;  through Lucien he met Kammerer, who introduced him to Jack;  through these three he met Allen.



Brian Hassett


For another TIFF story from the world premiere of the final version of On The Road — check out the Meeting Walter Salles Adventure.

For the On The Road New York City premiere and afterparty Adventure — check out On The Road Comes Home.

For the London premiere of On The Road outdoors in a palace courtyard — check out On The Road To On The Road — Sex, Drugs and Jazz.

For a fun, accurate and movie-like adventure-book on the Beats — check out “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac

For another cool riff involving Allen Ginsberg — check out Famous People Who Don’t Have Kids.

For more comedic riffs on the Beat movies — check out Makin’ Movies.

For an excerpt from my book about the ’82 Kerouac Conference in Boulder — check out Meeting Your Heroes.

For more from the Boulder Beat Book — check out Who All Was There.

For a vivid account of being at the historic “On The Road” scroll auction — check out The Scroll Auction.

For a complete overview of all the Kerouac / Beat film dramatizations including clips and reviews — check out the Beat Movie Guide.

For a story about Henri Cru’s birthday — check out The Legend Turns 70.

For a beautiful poem to Carolyn Cassady on her birthday — check out the Carolyn Cassady Birthday Poem.

For an inspiring description of being at a Beat jazz-&-poetry reading in Greenwich Village — check out Be The Invincible Spirit You Are.

For an account of the historic Beat show at the Whitney Museum in New York — check out Wailin’ at the Whitney.

For a linked list of over 500 of the greatest movies ever made — check out The Hot List.

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21 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jerry Cimino // Sep 11, 2013 at 10:03 PM

    A very good piece, Brian. Very eye opening.
    I especially concur with what you say regarding easily researched accuracy.
    I can only hope it brings Harry Potter fans to The Beats.

  • 2 Levi Asher // Sep 12, 2013 at 8:03 AM

    Great write-up, Brian, especially all the atmosphere and surrounding info you provide … I feel like I was there! I wonder if the reason they changed so many historical details and known dialogue is that they asked the actors and crew to improvise (didn’t Walter Salles do the same?). But it does seem like some strange choices were made. I hope I’ll get to see the movie soon myself.

  • 3 Steve Silberman // Sep 12, 2013 at 8:55 AM

    Nice job.

  • 4 Jeanne Masanz // Sep 12, 2013 at 9:17 AM

    I love the way you are so present in every moment in your tales of synchronicity and bliss-following.

  • 5 Drew Berman // Sep 12, 2013 at 9:29 AM

    Great review. I was there as well and you captured it fabulously.

  • 6 Karen Lippert // Sep 12, 2013 at 10:47 AM

    You are so cool!

  • 7 Mary Jo Sullivan-Hicks // Sep 12, 2013 at 11:51 AM

    As always, great review Brian. So wish I had been there. Thanks for taking the time to give us a glimpse inside the movie!

  • 8 Ron McGregor // Sep 12, 2013 at 3:52 PM

    Wonderful job, Brian. I wanna see this with me wife.

  • 9 Jerry Cimino // Sep 12, 2013 at 11:41 PM

    Even read it again …
    Terrific review, Brian.
    Very complex and complete.
    I really enjoy your insights and outa-sights!
    And your comments about Edie and about Jack are very on point.
    I guess if I had Daniel Radcliffe in my movie I would have shifted the focus some as well.
    Thanks for the clear and well written piece!

  • 10 S.A. Griffin // Sep 13, 2013 at 3:18 PM

    Enjoyed this. Really interesting. I love the way you brought it home.
    Sad to hear that they skirted so much fact, especially the Kerouac/Edie stuff.
    Also, giving Lucien credit for “first thought, best thought”, WTF???
    But in truth, that they get these films made at all and get people in the seats, and as you note primarily to see the stars and for no other reason, is quite an accomplishment indeed. Hats off.

  • 11 Brian Humniski // Sep 13, 2013 at 9:07 PM

    You have a way of cutting though the weeds and finding the flowers.
    I look forward to seeing the film and will be considering your criticism in helping separate the art from the truth.
    The beats are no longer able to stand up and clear their names and are lucky to have a champion like you.
    Keep the beat.

  • 12 Lauren Cramer // Sep 13, 2013 at 10:54 PM

    Great review Brian!
    I was afraid of innacuracies….esp with the topic, which doesn’t seem to be the main subject anyway. Having just finished Edie’s book myself, it’s fresh in my mind, and would be extremely disappointed going into it with expectations. I will eventually see it, although the absence of JK & his importance in role of this time bothers me. Thanks so much for a solid review. And I am not surprised one bit about the audience description.

  • 13 Alicia Cabrera // Sep 14, 2013 at 12:17 AM

    Brian this is a great read!~~
    I still think the best part of this is that Daniel Radcliffe said yes ~but for that maybe there wouldn’t be so many there.
    he has a great attitude about it all.
    He’s picking what he wants to appear in now
    very post-Harry Potter ~ I too, never did the book or movies.
    I am going to see Kill Your Darlings……

  • 14 Jeanne Masanz // Sep 14, 2013 at 9:04 AM

    I appreciate the review. Lots of details. I’m sure I’ll see it, probably watch at home. That cell phone comment … priceless.

  • 15 Ken Morris // Sep 14, 2013 at 10:42 PM

    Wow! A neutered Jack and a non-Edie?! Are you kidding me?!?! Maybe should have called it The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg.
    Thanks for the details, Brian. I sense your disappointment yet happiness for finally seeing it. I still think it’s a must see, however the interpretation.
    Any interpretation is better than no interpretation. And that is independent cinema for you. Mediocre or good independent cinema is always better than the mostly dribble in the multiplex bunker down in the mall. Cheers to the Kill Your Darlings team for their attempt and efforts!!

  • 16 Walter Salles // Sep 15, 2013 at 11:27 AM

    What a great review….from the first to the last line.
    So encompassing, precise (the hits and misses), generous…..wouldn’t expect anything different from you.
    Am in between airports (as usual). More soon……
    Abrazos from yr friend from the end of the world,

  • 17 Tim Moran // Oct 18, 2013 at 2:20 PM

    I may have said this but not put it in print: You nail this film on its head.
    It’s very disturbing that the film is being promoted as a true story. In fact, I’ve seen interviews of Krokidas and several of Radcliffe and they both state repeatedly that this is a never before told incredible true story. Just a week ago a billboard was put up right outside my window with several Kill Your Darlings posters which claim, “A true story of obsession and murder.” Other than the fact that Lucien Carr did kill David Kammerer, nothing in this film is true.
    I won’t detail it all as you already very capably have. Of course, as someone who lived with Edie Parker for ten years, co-wrote and edited her memoir, is the Executor of her Estate and devoted 25 years of my life to establishing and securing her rightful place in the history of the Beats, I find her portrayal in the film offensive and infuriating.
    I also saw an interview of Elizabeth Olsen who portrays Edie. She stated that Edie and her story are incredible even outside of her involvement with the Beats and marriage to Jack. I assume she must have read Edie’s memoir, “You’ll Be Okay- My Life With Jack Kerouac,” because there is no other source that tells Edie’s story. Why she would portray Edie as a woman so completely unlike who she was is beyond me.
    The whole project is beyond my ability to understand why anyone would take what is a true and incredible story, turn it into fiction then sell it claiming it’s true. This is how fiction becomes accepted as fact. Mr. Krokidas – who claims himself a fan, student of and greatly influenced by the Beats has done them and all fans a great disservice. God Bless Hollywood and the almighty $$$.
    I’m only glad Edie is not alive to see this film and Mr. Krokidas should be too.

  • 18 Hack // Nov 17, 2013 at 7:13 PM

    I saw the movie last week, and as a huge Beat fan and collector, I was sorely disappointed in this film. The acting itself was great (at times); however, with so many inaccuracies and how the characters seemed strange, distorted, and almost unrecognizable, it was hard to come out of the film and say with any conviction that it was ‘good’. Thanks for posting your review – very enlightening.

  • 19 Richard Marsh // Dec 1, 2013 at 11:46 AM

    Excellent review, Brian.

  • 20 Jim Neill // Dec 1, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    Thanks Brian. I hate that syndrome. It is usually a disservice to everyone when facts are distorted in the service of entertainment.

  • 21 Paula Marshall // Jan 14, 2014 at 3:44 PM

    Hey! This could not be written any better! It reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept talking about these Beat guys. I forwarded him the link. Many thanks for writing this!

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