London, 1997: with Britpop in full swing, A&R man Steven Stelfox (Hoult) struggles to make his way through the music biz minefield, willing to go to any lengths to stay afloat.
The sharper edges of former A&R man John Niven’s scabrous, black-hearted 2008 novel, a kind of music biz mash-up of American Psycho and The Player, have been blunted during its transition to the big screen. A year or two ago, one might have added “understandably”, but in the post-Wolf Of Wall Street world, Kill Your Friends feels tame and curiously sexless.
The year is 1997. Britpop and the Spice Girls rule the charts, and A&R executive Steven Stelfox (Nicholas Hoult) is desperate to discover the Next Big Thing in a business that isn’t so much dog-eat-dog as, in Niven’s words, “dog-gang-rapes-dog-then-tortures-him-for-five-days-before-burying-him-alive-and-taking-out-every-motherfucker-the-dog-has-ever-known”. A coke-addicted, misogynistic misanthrope who’s a long way from his last hit record, Stelfox is ready to do whatever it takes for one more day at the expenses-fuelled trough.
Kudos to Hoult for finding himself a rotten plum of a role: with his near-omnipresent voiceover and House Of Cards-style asides, he’s in virtually every scene. Alas, like the equally game Jude Law in the Alfie remake, all the scene-stealing, camera-hogging charisma in the world won’t save you if what’s unfolding around you is as calamitously misjudged as a wedding singer doing a medley of Rammstein and Throbbing Gristle.
The main problem is that the performances ring so false, even the film’s many witty nuggets of music biz wisdom feel contrived and unconvincing. Kill Your Friends’ other major issue is that, while said industry may be scuzzy, films of this kind are supposed to employ a seductive, aspirational guide to seduce you into their pseudo-glamorous worlds before showing you the dark underbelly. Kill Your Friends’ depiction of the Britpop-era music business is grubby and deplorable from the get-go, largely due to Harris’ sub-’90s-TV direction, cheap-and-nasty cinematography and absence of production value. It could have been this year’s Trainspotting. Instead, it’s a train wreck.
Nicholas Hoult does his best to bring Niven's weapons-grade scumbag to life, in a film hobbled by amateurish acting and absence of production value.