How is it that no one had yet made the Lucien Carr–David Kammerer murder story into a movie? It's an irresistible tall tale from the Beat back catalogue—how the finger-snapping legends-to-be (Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs) coalesced around the radiant rebel Carr while he was a Columbia undergrad and discovered hard partying and transcendental literary pretension, even as lovelorn chickenhawk Kammerer hounded the golden boy until Carr was forced to knife the older man and dump his body in the Hudson. Just picture it: wine, hash, jazz dives, pre-Beat manifestos, taboos sliced and diced, barely sublimated homosexual passion, all climaxing in a capital crime that scatters the group and sends Carr to prison. Director John Krokidas's movie, his first, lurches from one biopic cliché to the next, each illustrative of the narrative predetermined by history: legendary meetings, famous pranks, visits to downtown bohemian hovels, confrontations between Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) and Carr (Dane DeHaan), and pivotal moments in the dawning awareness of Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), through whose virginal eyes the whole hip tragedy unfolds. Radcliffe's take on an extroverted Newark Jew isn't so un-Hogwartsy that Ginsberg himself ever comes to mind, but that would be distracting, wouldn't it? DeHaan, for his part, has the impossible burden of impersonating a counterculture life force, jumping on library tables and yelling in public, but at least he's not required to approximate the famous. Jack Huston's Jack Kerouac is forgettable, but Ben Foster's William S. Burroughs is a dead-on riff and the movie's only reliable source of comic relief. His wary, funereal presence is a gift, playing like the thoughtful hound dog in a room of kittens.
John KrokidasDaniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, Ben Foster, David Cross, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Elizabeth Olsen, Kyra SedgwickJohn Krokidas, Austin BunnSony Pictures Classics