Director: John Krokidas
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, Jack Hudson, Ben Foster, Elizabeth Olsen, Ben Cross, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Written by: Austin Bunn and John Krokidas
Running Time: 104 mins
Release date: 5th December 2013
The moment I saw this film I knew that the press would have a field day. Harry Potter in gay scene! When I tell you that the scene in question is a blink-and-you-will-miss-it moment and is certainly not making a massive fuss about, if it brings people in to see this well written, well performed piece about the birth of the Beat poets, then it would be all worth while and it also offers the opportunity to see Daniel Radcliffe in the performance of his career so far.
1944 and a young Allen Ginsberg enters the educational establishment of Columbia University, where he meets and becomes instantly obsessed with fellow student and renegade, Lucian Carr. The pair become friends and Carr introduces the freshman to a whole new world which will make Ginsberg question everything that he is taught. Carr has a lover, an older man who is infatuated with the young lover and it is this relationship that leads to tragedy and the birth of the Beat Generation.
For those who don’t know too much about the Beat writers, they consisted of Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs and the changed the conventions of writing and how the world saw itself. It would have been very easy for director and co-writer John Krokidas to concentrate solely on their bonding but this would have been a falsehood and if this film isn’t going to do, it isn’t going to lie to its audience. Instead, it follows the catalyst, the events that led to the complete alteration of literacy and poetry by a gang of rebellious young writers. It’s a fascinating road indeed.
Coming on like some demented, sexually charged Dead Poets Society, except there is no John Keating to guide the way, just a young man with a passion for flipping of the establishment, this is more about Ginsberg’s relationship with Carr than the closeness of the other two writers. Krokidas delights in exploring their worlds, more so Carr’s, who moves in some very debouch circles of highly intellects who bow down to the wisdoms of his older lover, David Kammerer, a man who has his own obsessions.
This plays out beautifully, with a terrific script and some outstanding performances. Dane DeHaan, who we will be seeing more of next year in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, is excellent as the smooth, handsome rebel Carr and it is easy to see why Ginsberg fell for his charms. It’s easily the pivotal performance in the film and yet one that might be overlooked thanks to his co-star. Michael C. Hall moves away from his TV screen persona, Dexter, to play Carr’s lover, Kammerer and gives a fine performance.
For me, the performance of the film comes from the hugely underrated Ben Foster as the strange Burroughs, who later went on to write the equally strange, The Naked Lunch. It’s a rich and appealing performance that you long for more. Elizabeth Olsen and Jennifer Jason Leigh are fine but not given hardly enough screen time.
So it’s up to Radcliffe to hold the film together and he does it with aplomb. While it is true that the supporting cast are strong, he will obviously get all the attention just for who he is and he delivers, making a fascinating Ginsberg. It’s also a brave step away from his most famous character and some fans my not forgiven him for that but I applaud it. It’s a challenging role and he rises to the occasion.
It’s always hard to make a film about writers but this is a decent, detailed and crisply written film that deserves some attention. Will it be a hit, even with Radcliffe and the controversy around it? Probably not, which would be a shame because this is intelligent, well performed and engrossing and one that demands more attention than I think it will get, apart from the thrill seekers hoping to see Radcliffe’s gay sex scene. Let me tell you, this is more than just that.