When it comes to great writers that shape a generation, others seek to define where it all started. That’s an essential goal of John Krokidas’s debut feature. To achieve this, he pinpoints an event that would forever alter the futures of Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac.
The plot revolves around the relationship that Ginsberg(Daniel Radcliffe), in 1944, developed with troubled young Lucien Carr(Dane DeHaan) and the murder mystery that shaped Ginsberg and other prominent writers of the Beat generation.
Radcliffe shows fantastic growth as an actor, bringing a great level of commitment to the role of Ginsberg. DeHaan continues to prove his worth as one of the best actors of his generation, embodying all the charisma, seductive eloquence and destructive nature of Carr. Ben Foster gives a terrific performance as Burroughs, further establishing himself as one of the most underrated actors working right now. The film would have only benefited from featuring more of his method performance. Jack Huston gives a solid effort as Kerouac as well, capturing the blunt but well-intentioned attitude he held toward others. Michael C. Hall gives an effective performance as David Kammerer, an attached, creepy “Guardian Angel” of Carr’s who competes with Ginsberg for Carr’s affections. The rest of the cast contributes well, with Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Cross and Kyra Sedgwick giving complimentary supporting performances. Elizabeth Olsen plays Edie Parker, Kerouac’s lover, and while she does the best with the material she’s given, she is a far more talented actress than the movie gives her time to be.
Krokidas directs the film with a frenetic energy, indulging in quick cuts and experimental slow-motion reversals of shots. While these mechanisms don’t always serve the best purposes of the film, they keep the energy of its story and characters quite alive. Krokidas does a commendable job recreating 1940’s New York City, with solid efforts from the costuming department and cleverly never using any large exterior shots of the city.
Keeping in line with his characters desires to break all restrictive rules of their art, Krokidas utilizes modern music by TV On The Radio to a while somewhat distracting, but ultimately aesthetically immersive effect. He does it only twice, but both times compliment the emotions of the sequences and further pull the audience toward the characters frenetic form-breaking natures.
By the films end, Krokidas succeeds in his portrayal of these landmark writers and manages to give a context to what set each of them on their respective paths to becoming the influential artists we know now. All the while though, he creates a thoughtful canvas of self-discovery to paint these characters upon.