Having grown up on screen in the “Harry Potter” series, Daniel Radcliffe is showing absolutely no signs of an awkward transition to big-boy, non-wizard roles.
He’s doing it mostly through a combination of extremely serious stage work and independent films, a smart way to make people forget you spent 10 years with a lightning bolt tattooed on your forehead.
Latest example: “Kill Your Darlings,” an account of a dire episode that overlapped with the birth of the Beat movement in literature.
Years before anybody’d heard of Allen Ginsberg or Jack Kerouac or William S. Burroughs, those writers were on the periphery of a 1944 murder. Their college friend Lucien Carr killed a man, David Kammerer, who had been stalking Carr; Burroughs and Kerouac were briefly arrested as accessories after the fact.
Radcliffe plays Allen Ginsberg, the future author of “Howl,” who is portrayed here as uncertain about his sexuality, interested in artistic revolution and entranced by the eloquent and radically minded Carr (Dane DeHaan, from “Chronicle”).
We see the killing in the opening scene, then flash back to the writers as they meet each other at Columbia University and take the first baby steps on their great literary experiment.
Kerouac (the excellent Jack Huston) has a supporting role to play in this, and his girlfriend Edie (Elizabeth Olsen) is even more marginal (like the Beat movement itself, this is a very male-oriented affair).
As Burroughs, Ben Foster (late of “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”) does a deadpan drawl in imitation of the author of “Naked Lunch.”
The setting is evocative, and for a while director/co-writer John Krokidas pursues the excitement of overheated young people trying to create a new way to write, and perhaps a new way to live. But the focus shifts to Ginsberg’s coming of age, and his exploration of his homosexuality, at which point a much more conventional kind of drama kicks in.
The actors are committed to this, but they tend to play the parts in a head-on, melodramatic way. The cast also includes “Dexter” star Michael C. Hall as the boorish Kammerer, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Ginsberg’s unstable mother.
Radcliffe acquits himself well: He has an intense method that works for the character, even if the actor occasionally looks like he’s trying to prove something to the world. And maybe he is. If so, I think we’re convinced — now go ahead and lighten up a little.
“Kill Your Darlings” (1½ stars)
The meeting of the future literary titans of the Beat movement, which culminated in a killing in 1944. The young actors are committed to the material (Daniel Radcliffe plays Allen Ginsberg), but after a while the film settles for conventional melodrama instead of the radical excitement of a new kind of art being born. Co-starring Dane DeHaan, Jack Huston.
Rated: R for nudity, language, violence.
Showing: Meridian, Sundance.