Telling the story of the beat generation could potentially make this film dated before it begins, but Krokidas’ sly use of music brings it right up to date without the jarring anachronisms of Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. The film has a retro look to it with a tactical amount of added grain. The visuals are straight out of what everyone wishes their teenage Super 8 experiments looked like. This affectation is all the more endearing when paired with the exuberant characters.
While Daniel Radcliffe’s Allen Ginsberg is the protagonist of this film, the star is undoubtedly Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr. DeHaan’s performance begins as a kind of male version of the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ inspiring not only Ginsberg, but everybody he meets with his charming, sly and spontaneous way of life. However DeHaan is careful not to let this slip into a stereotype in any way. His performance shows us a fully three-dimensional character who is arrogant, frail, angry and, most of all, confused. This emotional depth is what draws every character, and ultimately the audience, into his world and vision. It is always uncertain whether his personality is an act to manipulate the world to his liking or whether he is essentially the good, albeit troubled, person everyone wants him to be. The relationship between Carr and Ginsberg is fraught with palpable tension which is portrayed with direct honesty thanks to the genuine on-screen chemistry between Radcliffe and DeHaan. Radcliffe is equally impressive as Ginsberg, flawlessly (and somewhat jarringly, for someone who grew up watching Harry Potter) replicating an American accent and entering into the role, complete with curly hair and woolly jumpers. Particular mention is necessary for one of the most convincing and realistic depictions of losing virginity I have seen, despite many many films broaching this subject.
Krokidas’s direction falls back onto a few clichés and devices, even at the narrative climax, but these fade into insignificance when compared to the stylish approach used throughout the rest of the film. The style is upfront and totally engaging, impossible to turn away from. It is as beautiful when showing the delicate family background of Ginsberg as when presenting the hedonistic underbelly of sex, betrayal and intrigue. This pulls the audience in so far that even when the characters have long since crossed into being objectively in the wrong you still empathise and even support their actions.
The film captures the feelings of late adolescence, the unshakeable belief that you and your group of friends are all-powerful visionaries and revolutionaries. The character of Lucien Carr embodies this attitude. He has no definable talent of his own yet creates the Beat revolution. He even goes so far as to stop time for a while through sheer force of will. Ginsberg and Kerouac do indeed become revolutionaries, which is somewhat ironic considering that their inspiration is the one who didn’t make it. Carr was almost set up to fail. His whole group hero-worshipped him into a two-dimensional character when in fact he was desperately in need of help, love and understanding. You can’t help but feel that if there had been just one person, maybe even himself, who didn’t believe that Carr was a great and brilliant person, he may have actually become one.
- Entertainment: 5/5
- Artistic: 4/5
- Intellectual: 4/5