Despite the unruly black hair, the round glasses and the wide-eyed sense of wonder upon entering a brave new world, the most impressive thing about Daniel Radcliffe's turn as Allen Ginsberg in intoxicating melodrama Kill Your Darlings is that you don't for a moment see Harry Potter. Contrary to the expectations of many, it's taken him less than two years to shake off the pall of franchise typecasting.
Set several years prior to 2010's James Franco-starring Howl, this remarkably assured debut from director John Krokidas tracks the young Ginsberg's early days at Columbia, his infatuation with fellow student Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), and the murder that would test his bond with fellow Beat writers William Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston).
The shadow of World War II looms large as Ginsberg arrives on campus in 1943, but Carr is leading his own charge against the university's stuffy literary traditions, which he equates to fascism. Ginsberg, who idolises Walt Whitman and his rejection of traditional metre in poetry, is immediately drawn in, and thanks to DeHaan's wildly charismatic and thrillingly volatile performance we're right there with him.
But Carr has his own demons, which eventually begin to sour the revolutionary energy, most notably in the form of predatory former mentor David Kammerer (Michael C Hall). A "guardian angel" turned stalker, Kammerer is a malevolent yet often pitiable presence whose history with Carr remains ambiguous both to us and to Ginsberg, and drives the film towards its gothic climax.
Radcliffe has never been this affecting on screen before; you feel every painful moment of his largely unrequited love for Carr, even as the film itself seems occasionally to get distracted. Krokidas and Austin Bunn's script tries to weave together a few too many strands - Huston is a compelling presence as Kerouac, but the subplot centring on his relationship with Edie Parker (Elizabeth Olsen) never feels fully integrated.
Evoking the drug-fuelled haze through which many of its characters navigate the world, Kill Your Darlings feels mercurial and at times frenetic. Sequences of euphoric mania, all jump-cuts and staccato flashbacks, segue into quiet, perfectly still moments of intimacy. The energy is infectious, and the feeling behind it is startlingly raw; Krokidas has a supremely confident handle on his film's emotional register, employing lush and often surreal visuals without them ever threatening to eclipse his characters.
Sharply scripted and led by a pair of bold, thrilling performances, Kill Your Darlings is a heady, histrionic, utterly captivating slice of dramatised history.