Most helpful critical review
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 2 May 2011
I will openly admit that I don't know a lot about the Beat poets -- romantic or classical poets are more my type.
So I don't know EVERYTHING that is wrong with "Beat," a movie that chronicles the dramatic crumble of William Burroughs' marriage to Joan Vollmer. But I do know what the movie's problems are -- the acting is patchy, the story meanders, and it's hard to care about the dying marriage of two people who don't even share the screen for most of the movie.
Two years ago, William Burroughs (Kiefer Sutherland) and his common-law wife Joan Vollmer (Courtney Love) helped Lucien Carr (Norman Reedus) after Carr killed a hanger-on who had sexually assaulted him. Now Carr is back, and he's apparently in love with Joan but not sure if he wants to also bring along her kids.
So while Burroughs goes on a vacation with a boyfriend, Joan impulsively goes off with Carr and Allen Ginsberg (Ron Livingston), and begins to seriously consider leaving her husband. Of course, it inevitably leads to tragedy... and since they show it in the very first scene, I'll just say that it involves a "William Tell act."
Anyone hoping for a cinematic dash of beat flavor is going to cry after they see this movie -- the beat movement and their work is barely touched on. It's like the producers heard, "Real life accidental death/possible murder by famous figure!" and decided to make a movie about it without knowing much about any of the people involved.
In fact, most of the movie is a slow, rather dreary trip through the Mexican forests, where people talk and occasionally kiss; and we have some brief glimpses of Burroughs trying to cuddle his boyfriend in a dingy bedroom, as well as sepia-toned flashbacks. The narrative just sort of oozes along, with a few quotables that clunk off the ear ("But people decay more promptly than Mayan temples").
In short, it's... pretty, but very boring. As for the dramatic and infamous death scene, there doesn't seem to be any ambiguity about whether it was deliberate or not.
Sutherland gives aperfect impression of Ginsberg's voice, but he spends most of the movie looking like he's confused by his ill-defined character. But he does do a good job near the end, such as when we see Ginsberg tearing up while having a knife resharpened. Courtney Love looks like she's stoned most of the time, slurring and drowsily twisting her large lips, while Reedus and Livingston are excellent but mostly wasted.
"Beat" is allegedly about the beat poets and the death of Joan Vollmer, but don't be fooled. There's hardly anything of the "beat" in "Beat," just the slow and uninvolving death of a marriage.