Nicholas Hoult plays ruthless A&R man Steven Stelfox in Kill Your Friends, a British black comedy about the 1990s music industry based on the novel of the same name. Steven is young, ambitious, and a risk-taker, making him a perfect candidate for advancement in the fast-paced, competitive world of record labels. However, a few problems stand in his way—namely his boss and fellow employees. Luckily, even though he hates music, Steven knows how the business works. He enjoys the unlimited hedonistic thrills of his environment while secretly plotting murderous advancement within the cruel, dog-eat-dog world of music management.
Set in the nihilistic mould of American Psycho, Fight Club, or Trainspotting but with less grit and bite than those critical, era-defining, late ‘90s/early ‘00s pop culture touchstones, Kill Your Friends satirizes a by-gone generation of the music business, before the current glut of YouTube music stars and bands. Unfortunately, it does not say anything new and is certainly not as relevant to today’s music industry, where online streaming and viral hits make it easier and faster for the public to find the next big thing, often bypassing record label talent scouts and A&R (that’s “artists and repertoire”) departments altogether. The story would have been better served if it was updated with knowledge of the industry today or if it came out 15 years ago.
Hoult is really good though as the charming, handsome, shark-like protagonist fuelled solely by money and drugs. The other characters, however, are a little underdeveloped and one-note although the cast is quite strong: James Corden plays a cocaine-addict with job seniority over Steven, Georgia King is a super competent A&R department secretary, Craig Roberts plays an idealistic talent scout, and Tom Riley is Steven’s superior rival. Sadly, the film doesn’t really expand these characters until it is almost too late, failing also to delve deeper into its own chaotic, cut-throat, drug-and-booze fuelled world.
Kill Your Friends starts out strong, sharp, and irreverent, but slowly becomes more predictable and less funny or shocking as things spiral out of control and Steven reaches rock bottom in his life and career. Then, he just as quickly rockets back up again, saved by the arbitrary rise and fall of music industry’s big breaks, proving the film’s crisis and potentially major character moment to be ultimately meaningless and leaving audiences with an unsatisfying, soulless ending. Lastly, the voice-over narration is used far too much, but perhaps the book is better than the movie as author and screenwriter John Niven does manage to slip in a few rather pithy bon mots in his take down of the industry.
Ratings (out of 5):
Overall Average: 2.8