The title refers to a basic rule of writing: if you love it, lose it. But it also refers to a death in this family of young Harvard eds (well, they weren't co-eds because females were allowed only in Harvard's sister school, Barnard). This live poets' society consists of Allen Ginsburg, William S. Burroughs (local boy, made bad), and Jack Kerouac, plus lesser lights of lit: Lucien Carr and David Kammerer.
Ginsburg, skinny and curly-haired, serves the group more as sidekick. In poetry class, he continues discussions about poetry and prosody -- assonance, trope, rhyme, etc. -- that he had with his poet father. At first, Ginsburg witnesses his fellows taking drugs, cheating on girlfriends or flirting with boyfriends as he, himself, is trying to figure out what to do with his desires for their comely selves in a time when jail was a real threat to homosexuals. In many ways non-poetic, Ginsburg is a naive virgin, and "Kill Your Darlings" is as much about his awakening as it is about Lucien Carr's crime.
But to make a film with the sidekick as the hero is always dicey. John Krokidas directed the film and co-wrote it with Austin Bunn. Krokidas' sincere work sincere includes lots of close-ups of light reflected off rimless glasses and Vitalis, of wet, red lips and of hairy bellies in bed. Maybe the camera zooms in so often because 2013 demands intimacy that the 1940s could not.
As Ginsburg, Daniel Radcliffe does his best to see into the youthful days of the poet, to draw Ginsburg's lines with a firmer pressure. Dane DeHaan tries to make Carr a troubled soul without much of a soul. But the rest of the cast poses: here is Ben Foster as the natty Burroughs in a bathtub, his nose roped to nitrous oxide; here is Michael C. Hall, portraying Kammerer, softer in face and form than Hall's Dexter. Here is Jack Huston, looking vaguely like Henry Fonda but with generations of Hustons in his family tree as he portrays Jack Kerouac. Women are negligible to these men, so Elizabeth Olsen as Kerouac's girlfriend and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Ginsburg's mother are wispy, too. David Cross does well as Ginsburg senior, and John Collum is a steady poetry prof.
Too often, "Kill Your Darlings" lies dead on the screen, providing a bit of history -- poetical, criminal, and sexual.